Newt Gingrich: Republicans must pass important bills before Democrats take over House

Now that the midterm elections are over, Republicans have a short amount of time to accomplish a great deal. This is their last stretch of having full control of the Congress before Democrats become the majority party in the House in January, and they should work with President Trump to take full advantage.

First, Republicans must pass the remaining appropriation bills, including spending bills for the Homeland Security Department and the Agriculture Department.

There will doubtlessly be Democratic attempts to stall or block conservative measures in these remaining spending bills, but the Republican leadership must insist on including them. It is very unlikely that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., will want to start the 2020 presidential cycle by shutting the government down.

Second, Republicans have an opportunity this year to block a job-killing, innovation-halting, health-care-cost-increasing tax hike. If Congress doesn’t do something to stop it, the tax increase on medical devices – which was born out of ObamaCare and has been temporarily halted by Congress twice due to its destructive consequences – will go into effect.

From 2013 to 2015 – the years this tax increase was in effect – the medical device industry in America lost 28,800 jobs, while in the first year alone investment in industry research and development fell by $34 million.

This is largely because of the way the tax is structured and the complex, competitive nature of the health-care market. Companies can’t directly pass the tax on to consumers, so they must carve the cost out of salaries, innovation and investment.

Further, the tax is levied on 2.3 percent of revenue (rather than profit or quantity) made from selling a variety of different medical devices. This means that if a small company selling these devices doesn’t even make a profit for the year it still must pay the tax increase.

Weakening or killing small, innovative entrepreneurial startups hurts the economy and slows needed improvements in health care.

This tax increase is overwhelmingly opposed by members of Congress. In July, the House passed a measure to repeal the tax 283-132 – with 57 Democrats joining Republicans to kill this horrible tax. However, parliamentary maneuverings seem to have bottled up efforts to stop the tax increase in the Senate.

Since Democrats tend to like higher taxes, it is unlikely House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., will allow another vote on this in the House when she is expected to reclaim the speaker’s gavel next session. The time to act is now.

Third, Republicans have an opportunity to prove the media and the left wrong, by passing the First Step Act – a bipartisan bill to reform our broken federal prison system. This bill follows the examples of states like Georgia and Texas, which have passed important reforms to reduce both crime and prison populations.

President Trump announced Wednesday that he supports the First Step Act.

Among many other things, the legislation would create a system by which all incoming federal prisoners would be assessed for their needs and risks and given the opportunity to participate in job training, faith-based activities, or other educational programs tailored to reducing the likelihood they will return to crime upon release.

For those who enter the prison system addicted to drugs, the bill would instruct the Bureau of Prisons to develop a plan to actually help them get healthy – this importantly includes medication-assisted treatment for inmates addicted to opioids.

The prison system we have now is indisputably broken. There are more than 2 million Americans in state or federal prison right now.

Further, 2.7 million children in the United States have parents who are locked up. And 77 percent of prisoners who are released are re-arrested within five years. No one can claim a system with a 77 percent failure rate is working. And the fact that we are spending $80 billion a year to support this failing system is an absurdity.

The First Step Act passed the House by a bipartisan vote of 360-59, with 134 Democrats signed on to it. This is largely because the American people want these reforms. They instinctively know that people who are addicted to drugs, or simply born into a violent life with limited options, will be less likely to commit crimes if they can do something better.

Republicans must pass this bill before the end of the year.

Together, these achievements would guarantee a very successful lame duck session.

Editor's Note: Newt Gingrich is an adviser to several health-care companies and groups that would be affected by the medical device tax.