Advocating for your interests on Capitol Hill

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With the 115th Congress in full swing, our Governmental Relations Division in Washington, D.C., has been extremely busy monitoring new bills introduced on Capitol Hill and lobbying for and against key federal legislation that impacts animal health and welfare and the future of the profession.

As Congress continues to debate the legislative priorities set forth by the current administration, the AVMA is working to ensure that those issues important to veterinary medicine remain front and center in both chambers.

The AVMA remains concerned about veterinarians’ inability to obtain medications compounded from bulk drug substances. That's why we're working toward passage of meaningful legislation that would legalize animal drug compounding from bulk substances. The AVMA Task Force on Veterinary Compounding Legislation developed recommendations pursuant to the AVMA's revised policies on compounding. The AVMA Board of Directors approved these policies in June 2016, and the resulting legislative language is now being reviewed by AVMA entities, state veterinary medical associations, constituent allied veterinary organizations, and stakeholders. Once approved by the board, we hope to have legislation introduced in the 115th Congress.

The AVMA is aware of, and we echo, the concerns about addressing antimicrobial resistance. Our focus is on understanding and promoting good stewardship, which is our best approach to mitigating resistance while ensuring that we continue to have access to effective antimicrobials to treat our patients. Legislation has been introduced in a number of past Congresses that threatened to limit the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals. We expect similar legislation to be introduced in the current Congress. We want to reiterate to our members that the AVMA strongly opposes efforts to restrict our ability as veterinarians to appropriately treat our patients, and that we will continue to represent your interests to ensure that you continue to have access to the antimicrobials you need.

Despite a recent setback, we remain committed to stopping horse soring. What started as great news on January 13, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released a final rule that would crack down on this inhumane practice, took a wrong turn when the rule was suspended under a regulatory freeze. We are using multiple avenues to share our message as we urge the administration to implement the rule. A joint op-ed co-authored by myself and American Association of Equine Practitioners President Dr. R. Reynolds Cowles was published in The Hill, we sent a letter to Acting Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Michael Young, and we recently participated in a briefing on Capitol Hill.

Educational debt can be a substantial burden on students and young veterinarians and has broader implications for the profession. As Congress works to reauthorize the Higher Education Act, we are working to advance legislation that, in part, lowers interest rates on federal student loans, helps borrowers manage student debt, and increases financial literacy. We support House Resolution 795, which would allow employers to give employees up to $5,250 per year toward repayment of student loans. The employer would get a tax break while employees would not be taxed on the money. The AVMA also is urging lawmakers to expand the student loan interest deduction by increasing the maximum tax deduction from $2,500 to $5,000 for individuals ($10,000 for joint filers), and to repeal the income-based phase-outs of $65,000 for individuals ($130,000 for joint filers).

Legislation to increase funding available for grants through the Veterinary Medicine Loan Repayment Program (VMLRP) has been reintroduced in Congress. The VMLRP Enhancement Act would eliminate a 39 percent withholding tax that currently applies to grants awarded under this important program—a tax that effectively limits the number of awards to veterinarians and the number of rural communities that can benefit from increased services. The AVMA was a leading advocate for the VMLRP, which provides loan forgiveness for veterinarians who commit to serving in federally designated veterinary shortage areas. The VMLRP Enhancement Act, which has many co-sponsors in both the House and Senate, would benefit both veterinarians and rural communities.

Dr. Thomas F. Meyer

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