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Jurisdictional infighting and intense lobbying from industry ultimately scuttled Congress' efforts to deal with surprise medical bills this year.

Why it matters: Surprise bills were about as close to a slam-dunk as Congress gets in health policy, and lawmakers' failure to get such an easy thing across the finish line doesn't bode well for other, harder priorities.

What happened: Key lawmakers — Sen. Lamar Alexander and Reps. Frank Pallone and Greg Walden, who lead the Energy and Commerce Committee — announced a deal on the issue earlier this month.

  • Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer was concerned about the impact on New York hospitals, but he told other congressional leaders that he wouldn't oppose the deal's inclusion in the year-end spending bill.

After that deal was announced, House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal announced a separate agreement with Ranking Member Kevin Brady.

  • That put the two committees with jurisdiction over surprise bills on different pages.
  • Democratic leaders opted not to pick a side by including surprise bills in a year-end legislative package.

“There’s nothing diabolical about it, or nefarious," Neal told Axios. "We were simply saying, 'time to vet it.' The idea that you were just going to attach this to a spending bill and send it over without that opportunity? I mean, I think that would have been ill-considered.”

What's next: A House leadership aide said they'll try again, with another must-pass bill next spring.

The bottom line: "In an environment where all constituents of all parties are demanding relief from health care cost and complexity, the Democrats should be wary about singing the song of affordability concerns without delivering the goods," said Democratic health consultant Chris Jennings.

Go deeper

Scoop: Trump tells confidants he plans to pardon Michael Flynn

Photo: Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images

President Trump has told confidants he plans to pardon his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, who pleaded guilty in December 2017 to lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts, two sources with direct knowledge of the discussions tell Axios.

Behind the scenes: Sources with direct knowledge of the discussions said Flynn will be part of a series of pardons that Trump issues between now and when he leaves office.

Erica Pandey, author of @Work
4 hours ago - World

Remote work shakes up geopolitics

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The global adoption of remote work may leave the rising powers in the East behind.

The big picture: Despite India's and China's economic might, these countries have far fewer remote jobs than the U.S. or Europe. That's affecting the emerging economies' resilience amid the pandemic.

Trump gives Biden access to presidential intelligence briefings

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Trump White House on Tuesday gave President-elect Biden access to daily presidential intelligence briefings, a source familiar with the matter tells Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has refused to share the briefs until now, as he continues to challenge the result of the election and declines to concede. The president's acquiescence comes as another sign that the transition to a Biden administration is taking place.