Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
April 21, 2023
This Week in Congress
House and Senate
The House and Senate were in session this week.
Dear Colleague Letter
On April 11, 2023, a letter signed by 11 members of the Senate was sent to Chair Tammy Baldwin and Ranking Member Shelley Moore Capito of the Senate Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations. The letter requested $279.2 million for the CDC to prevent and control the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. The letter can be found here
Speaker McCarthy proposed a bill that would raise the US debt limit and cut federal spending. The plan would increase the debt ceiling by $1.5 trillion, enough to stave off a US payments default until March 31, 2024; cap discretionary spending at the FY’22 levels or a $130 billion cut and cap increases to a 1% annual rate for the following decade; rescind unspent Covid-19 funds; impose tougher work requirements for anti-poverty benefits; and ease regulations on energy projects. The cuts “are not draconian, they are responsible,” McCarthy said. “If Washington wants to spend more it will have to come together and find savings elsewhere just like every single household in America.”
The Speaker hopes that if the House can pass the proposal President Biden will then engage in talks to resolve the ongoing stalemate over raising the $31.4 trillion debt limit. Without an increase or suspension of the ceiling, the US would default on payment obligations as soon as June — an event Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has warned would cause economic and financial “collapse.” Speaker McCarthy plans to bring the bill to the floor next week and he stated that he is confident that it will pass. The link to the bill can be found here The summary can be found here
Ranking Member Rosa DeLauro of the House Appropriations committee in response to Speaker McCarthy’s debt limit proposal stated: “With the introduction of legislation that couples meeting our debt limit obligations with slashing funding for programs that American families rely on, Speaker McCarthy risks our economic security and sets us on a path to kick hundreds of thousands of families out of their homes, strip away access to the child care parents rely on to go to work, pull cops off the street and teachers out of classrooms, and make our nation and our borders less secure.” Her statement can be found here
Other Legislative Happenings from Around the Nation
The U.S. Supreme Court extended until Friday at midnight an administrative stay in an ongoing lower-court fight over the FDA-approved use of the abortion pill mifepristone. Mifepristone is used in about half of all abortions nationwide. It has been used by millions of women since it was first approved in 2000, and major medical organizations say it has a strong safety record. The drug is also commonly used to help manage miscarriages. Its FDA approval was challenged in a lawsuit last year by a coalition of anti-abortion groups and doctors.
Generic Abortion Pill
GenBioPro Inc, maker of the only U.S. generic version of the abortion pill, mifepristone, has filed a lawsuit seeking to ensure that it can continue selling its pill amid ongoing legal challenges. The lawsuit was filed in federal court in Baltimore.
The Department of Health and Human Services held a listening session for herpes advocates earlier this month. In response to demands from activists, HHS asked patients and providers to talk at two Zoom meetings about their experience with the disease and what they would like to see from the agency going forward. The stigma the disease carries can exact a major psychological toll and significantly disrupt romantic life. Although many cases are asymptomatic, they can flare up into painful lesions on the mouth or genitals and cause flu-like symptoms. The herpes simplex virus raises the risk of acquiring HIV. In rare cases, it can be passed on by mothers to infants, where it can be fatal or cause neurological damage. Some early research suggests it might also increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s late in life. The article can be found here
The White House is planning to nominate Monica Bertagnolli to run the National Institutes of Health. The decision would end a lengthy vacancy atop the health research agency, and vault Bertagnolli, a Boston cancer surgeon, into a top role just months after being appointed as director of NIH’s National Cancer Institute. She became the first woman to occupy that job when she took over the role in October. If confirmed by the Senate, Bertagnolli would take control of a sprawling agency charged with investigating a range of diseases and finding new treatments. The NIH has traditionally enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress, with a budget that now exceeds $45 billion. If confirmed, Bertagnolli would be the second woman to head the NIH.
FDA and the CDC has cleared another booster dose of the Pfizer or Moderna COVID-19 vaccines for older Americans and people with weak immune systems. The FDA also took steps to make coronavirus vaccinations simpler for everyone, saying that anyone getting a Pfizer or Moderna dose — whether it’s a booster or their first-ever vaccination — will get the newest formula, not the original shots. People who are eligible for the extra boosters might be able to get them as soon as this week. The Biden administration also plans to roll out a new initiative this week guaranteeing free Covid vaccines, treatments, and tests for the uninsured into 2024. The program comes as the White House prepares to wind down its pandemic response operation. It also represents an effort to ensure vulnerable Americans can still access shots and treatments once the government shifts broader responsibility for Covid care to the private sector. Older people and those with weakened immune systems may get a second dose of Omicron-targeting COVID-19 vaccines. The CDC advisory committee’s meeting signed off on the FDA recommendation to authorize a second dose of Omicron-updated booster for the specified high-risk population.
British pop star Elton John (via Video) urged Senators not to ease up on the fight against HIV and AIDS, as Congress faces a September deadline for reauthorizing the multi-billion-dollar U.S. program to fight the disease. “There is no better symbol of American greatness than PEPFAR, and you should all be very proud of your extraordinary efforts,” John, testified. John’s foundation, which has raised hundreds of millions of dollars to fight AIDS, testified at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on reauthorizing the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).
Effort to Repeal VA Abortion Policy Narrowly Fails in Senate Vote
An effort by opponents in the Senate to undo the Department of Veterans Affairs’ decision last year to begin providing abortions fizzled out Wednesday after a resolution to repeal the policy narrowly failed to overcome a key procedural hurdle. The Senate voted 51-48 against advancing the resolution offered by Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., that would have reversed the abortion policy the VA implemented following the Supreme Court’s ruling last year that ended nationwide abortion rights.
New Doctors Avoid Residencies in States with Abortion Bans
New doctors applying to medical residency programs are more likely to avoid practicing in states with the most stringent abortion restrictions, an analysis from the Association of American Medical Colleges found. The drop in applications, particularly for OB-GYN residencies, could exacerbate the lack of maternal health care in those states, which already have the highest maternal mortality rates in the U.S.
A Federal judge in Colorado temporarily exempted a Catholic healthcare clinic from having to follow the state’s recent ban on abortion pill “reversal” treatment. Governor Polis signed the ban as part of a series of bills, becoming the first state in the U.S. to ban use of the treatment and furthering enshrining abortion access in the state.
Democratic Governor Kelly vetoed legislation that would require clinics to tell patients that a medication abortion can be stopped using an unproven drug regimen. The Governor’s action pushed back state GOP efforts to restrict abortion despite a decisive statewide vote affirming abortion rights in August 2022. It was the second time within a week that she vetoed an anti-abortion bill approved by the Republican Legislature.
The Nevada state Senate approved a bill that would strengthen existing protections for out-of-state abortion patients and in-state providers from outside prosecution and penalties as Democratic leadership vows to make the western swing state a safe haven for abortion patients. A spokesperson for Republican Gov. Joe Lombardo indicated that Lombardo could sign the bill as written. Also this week, an amendment to the Nevada Constitution guaranteeing abortion rights in the state is one step closer to coming before voters after the state Senate voted to advance a joint resolution.
An abortion provider dropped a two-month-old federal lawsuit seeking to overturn West Virginia’s near-total ban. The Women’s Health Center of West Virginia said in a court filing that its primary physician determined he will be unable to resume providing abortion care in the state “due to intervening professional obligations.” Another physician who provided abortion care at West Virginia’s only abortion clinic prior to the passage of a law last year is no longer available, the filing said.
The Montana legislature held a contentious hours-long hearing on a bill to define sex in state law as male or female. In Nebraska, legislators resumed debate on, then voted to advance a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors, following a weeks-long filibuster by the bill’s opponents. Two days earlier, the Missouri House approved restrictions on trans girls’ participation in sports and on gender-affirming care for minors. The same day, North Dakota’s governor signed into law a measure to ban trans girls from joining female sports teams in grades K-12 and in college. The near-daily flurry of simultaneous hearings and votes is the result of a tsunami of anti-trans bills that have been making their way through dozens of state legislatures since January. Advocacy groups filed a lawsuit seeking to strike down a new Tennessee law that bans doctors from providing gender-affirming medical treatment such as puberty blockers, hormone therapy and surgery to transgender minors. The American Civil Liberties Union and LGBTQ group Lambda Legal in a lawsuit filed in Nashville, Tennessee federal court say the law, which takes effect July 1, unlawfully discriminates against transgender people based on their sex.
U.S. House of Representatives
The House has approved a bill to restrict transgender students from playing on women’s sports teams by vote of 219-203. The legislation is a key part of the GOP’s education agenda and mirrors more than 20 laws that have been adopted in states across the country. It bars transgender women from playing on teams consistent with their gender identity and amends Title IX, the federal education law that bars sex-based discrimination, to define sex as based solely on a person’s reproductive biology and genetics at birth. The bill has no chance of becoming law as it is likely to stall in the Democrat-controlled Senate. President Biden has already announced that he would veto the bill if it were to reach his desk.