Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
The House and Senate were out of session the last two weeks. The Senate will reconvene on April 25 and the House will return on April 26.
Lawmakers face a jam-packed agenda when they return next week with action expected on the FY’23 appropriations bills; supplemental funds for pandemic aid; restaurant relief; additional funds for Ukraine; legislation on semiconductor manufacturing; and a possible rewrite of the “Build Back Better” package.
Before the start of the two-week recess, Republicans blocked a pandemic aid package because Democratic leadership did not want to allow a vote on an amendment to force President Biden to keep the pandemic border restrictions in place, also known as Title 42. The administration plans to rescind the policy next month, which has restricted migration at the U.S.-Mexico border. Several moderate Democrats have joined their Republican colleagues on concerns about a potential migration influx when the asylum restrictions are lifted, even after the majority of their caucus pushed for the President to end the controversial, two-year public health directive. Republicans have taken notice – and signaled they would support forcing the Title 42 issue again on future bills.
The Health Resources and Services Administration will make nearly $90 million in American Rescue Plan funding available to help health centers collect better data to identify and reduce health disparities. The data modernization initiative is intended to improve data quality reporting for health centers. Secretary of Health and Human Services Becerra stated that this funding, “will further enable health centers to utilize data to meet the needs of their community and help reduce gaps in care.” More than 90 percent of HRSA-funded health center patients are individuals or families living at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. Nearly 63 percent of them are racial or ethnic minorities.
This week the CDC launched a new center with the goal to predict the path of infectious diseases like Covid, then relay that information to federal, state, and local governments as well as the public. The Center – Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics – will analyze data to anticipate the omicron variant’s impact in the U.S.
This week the Florida Department of Health offered new guidance on transition-related medical care for young people, bucking advice given by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Department and medical experts, including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and American Psychiatric Association. Florida’s health department published a memo claiming that minors should not be a receive hormone therapies, puberty-blocking drugs, or gender reassignment surgery, and that social transition should not be a treatment option. Instead, Florida’s officials stated that children and adolescents should be provided social support by peers and family, and counseling from a licensed provider. The memo serves as guidance and is not a rule or regulation.
This week, a California bill to abolish the requirement that coroners investigate stillbirths, passed the Assembly Health Committee. Under the current California law, all fetal deaths at or after 20 weeks, with the exception of abortions, are treated as “unattended deaths” requiring a coroner to investigate. In 48 of 58 California counties, the sheriff is also the coroner, which means that law enforcement becomes involved and the person who is pregnant could face potential prosecution. That, say groups representing obstetricians and gynecologists, is dangerous and could make pregnant people less likely to seek medical care.
Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The legislation contains the strictest prohibition passed in Florida during the Roe v. Wade era. It does not come with exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape, incest, or human trafficking. Under the law, women can still obtain an abortion if their health is threatened or if their baby has a “fatal fetal abnormality.”
The Biden administration may now wait until as late as June to authorize a coronavirus vaccine for the nation’s youngest children. The move marks yet another delay in the government’s effort to vaccinate children under the age of five, and comes even as the U.S. lifts broader public health measures meant to protect Americans from the pandemic. Administration health officials had once hoped to authorize first shots for young children at the beginning of this year. But scientific setbacks and broader practical concerns within the FDA have slowed progress. Regulators are leaning toward postponing any action until the early summer, arguing that it would be simpler and less confusing to simultaneously authorize and promote two vaccines to the public, rather than green-lighting one on a faster timetable and the other down the road.
Vaccine advisers to the CDC continue to discuss what the future of Covid-19 booster shots might look like and acknowledge that entirely different vaccine formulations could be needed. This week members of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) discussed their next steps around recommending additional booster doses of Covid-19 vaccines for the general public. The panel also recommended that people ages 50 and older should consider getting a second booster sooner rather than later if they have underlying health problems; live with others at high risk for severe Covid; or have jobs that put them at risk for Covid exposure, including those who travel or must gather in large groups. ACIP members voiced concerns about booster fatigue, and creating the impression that a vaccination program that required large swathes of the population to get boosted every 4 to 6 months would be viewed as unsuccessful. They also emphasized that the primary series of vaccines, the first two doses, remained the most important in terms of preventing deaths. No votes were cast today as ACIP members discussed these questions.
The Department of Justice said is appealing a Florida court ruling that ended the travel mask mandate. This comes after the CDC said the mandate was still necessary to protect Americans’ health and the agency’s authority. The decision follows two days of debate in the White House as officials weighed the political risks of continuing a popular but controversial travel mask mandate against rising Covid-19 cases and the potential threat the ruling posed to the CDC’s ability to issue future mandates. In the end, the CDC decided that the risk of the sweeping ruling was too high for both Americans’ health and the precedent it might set in questioning the agency’s authority, such as mandating masks, during public health emergencies. The Florida court’s injunction against the mandate remains in place for now. The DOJ filed a notice of appeal to the Florida court this week, and could ask the court to stay the judge’s injunction while the case proceeds.