2012 election wrap-up

New Congress includes returning psychology champions

By Government Relations staff

Nov. 14, 2012—Almost every candidate for Congress supported by psychology’s political action committee (PAC) was victorious in the Nov. 6 election, preparing the way for 2013 legislative advocacy efforts by the APA Practice Organization (APAPO) that rely on proven champions for the profession. Some 96 percent of candidates supported by the new APAPO-PAC or the longtime predecessor PAC for psychology, AAP/PLAN, won in the November election.

As Democrats held control of the Senate and Republicans of the House, the reelection of President Obama means that the Congress taking office in January will have roughly the same balance of power as that in 2011-12.

“We’re gratified that a good number of friends of psychology were reelected to the Congress,” said APA Executive Director for Professional Practice Katherine C. Nordal, PhD. “There’s a lot of work to do in 2013 on issues such as Medicare payment and winning eligibility for health information technology incentives. These members are champions we would not be able to do without,” she predicted.

Representatives Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), and Lois Capps (D-Calif.) all won reelection. In the Senate, psychology allies Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), and Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) each won another six-year term, to be joined by Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), victor in her first race for that body.

The two incumbent psychologists who serve in the House, Tim Murphy, PhD (R-Pa.) and Judy Chu, PhD (D-Calif.), will be joined by a third, Alan Lowenthal, PhD (D-Calif.), who won a newly-created seat in California. Having three psychologists in the House will tie the record set in the early 2000s, when Murphy served with then-Reps. Ted Strickland, PhD (D-Ohio) and Brian Baird, PhD (D-Wash.). “There is enormous value to us to have psychologist-representatives talk with members of Congress as peers,” explained Marilyn Richmond, JD, assistant executive director for government relations for the APA Practice Organization.

Richmond cited the defeat of Rep. Pete Stark (D-Calif.) as a great disappointment. “Mr. Stark has pushed for psychology’s priorities for years and he’ll be greatly missed,” she said. The ranking Democrat on the Ways & Means Health Subcommittee, Stark championed the restoration of Medicare reimbursement for psychotherapy, mental health parity and a host of other issues enormously helpful to practicing psychologists. He lost his campaign for reelection to the seat he has held since 1973.

Almost all sponsors of the bills pushed by the APA Practice Organization in the 2011-12 Congress will be returning. APAPO lobbyists need a senator to pick up the bill sponsored by Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) to add psychologists to the Medicare definition of physician, as she is retiring. The sponsor of that bill in the House, Rep. Schakowsky, was comfortably reelected Tuesday.

The other bill promoted by APAPO would make psychologists and other mental health providers eligible for Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement incentive payments for adopting health information technology in their practice. Its sponsors, Sen. Whitehouse and Rep. Murphy, both won reelection.

As of Nov. 8, House Democrats picked up just seven seats, thereby failing to net the 25 additional seats necessary to retake control of the House. One political analyst, Alex Isenstadt of Politico, attributed this to “Republican dominance in redistricting that created a GOP-friendly map, a Medicare argument that didn't totally pan out and an incumbent president who just wasn't as popular as when he ran four years ago.” Isenstadt also pointed to a Republican advantage in campaign spending. Political reporter Charles Mahtesian predicted the House is “likely to be a more polarized chamber because of an erosion of centrists and a more inexperienced place, thanks to the departure of a number of senior legislators.”

The Republican effort to gain four Senate seats they needed to win the majority failed, “defying the betting odds of just a few months ago,” according to Congressional Quarterly magazine. The results showed a net gain of two seats for the Democrats, who will number 55, compared to 43 Republicans and two Independents. The new Congress will have 20 female senators, the most ever in U.S. history.

The outpouring of contributions from APAPO-PAC to congressional campaigns has depleted the PAC’s funds. Nordal said that she would ask practitioners to donate to the PAC early in 2013 so that the profession’s lobbyists may continue to have the opportunity to talk with senators and representatives at their fundraising events.