Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
December 10, 2021
On December 9, the Senate passed a bill which sets up a process that will permit Democrats to increase the nation’s borrowing capacity without any Republican votes. On a 59-35 vote, they passed the legislation, which grants a one-time exemption to Senate rules so that a debt ceiling increase be increased with only 51 votes. The legislation also would delay Medicare cuts that would otherwise be triggered January 1; extends for one year an increase to physician payments under the Medicare Part B outpatient program that was enacted for 2021, although the extension would lower the physicians’ boost to 3 percent instead of the original 3.75 percent increase; includes a one-year delay of the next round of cuts to lab services, which is designed to better align Medicare rates with private market rates; and a one-year delay of a mandatory payment demonstration for radiation oncologists. The bill now goes go the President for signature.
Reconciliation/Build Back Better
This week, Senator Schumer stated: “We continue to make good progress and are still on track to vote on a final product (Build Back Better) before Christmas.” However, Senator Manchin continues to make clear that he is in no rush to vote for the package and saw no reason the vote had to come this month saying: “I’ve never seen a situation where we weren’t able to make up whatever time you thought would be lost. Whatever happens, it shouldn’t be made on the timeliness. You should get the bill right.” Manchin said he was continuing to negotiate for changes in the bill, including a proposed fee that would be levied against energy producers for methane emissions.
Vaccinations for Businesses
This week the Senate passed a resolution to nullify an Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule requiring employers with 100 workers or more to require COVID-19 vaccinations or weekly tests for employees. The Democratic-led House is unlikely to consider the legislation, which means the mandate would stand, although the ruling is temporary halted, as cases make their way through the courts.
Other Happenings Around the Nation
On December 9, a Texas judge ruled that parts of the state’s new abortion ban violate the state’s constitution, but stopped short of declaring an injunction against its enforcement. The ruling is the first opinion issued on the law’s legality in state courts, where it is designed to be enforced. It was not immediately clear if the ruling, which is certain to be appealed, would lead to any change in abortion access.
December 8 marked the two-year anniversary of the onset of the first cases in Wuhan, China, of the virus that would later be labeled Covid-19.
U.S. Vaccination Rates
Sixty percent of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the CDC. Approximately 71% has received at least one vaccine dose, and 23% have had a booster shot.
Pfizer officials said that people might need a fourth Covid-19 shot sooner than expected after preliminary research shows the new omicron variant can undermine protective antibodies generated by the vaccine. Company officials said that results from an initial lab study showed a third shot is effective at fighting the omicron variant, while the initial two-dose vaccination series dropped significantly in its ability to protect against the new strain. However, the two-dose series likely still offers protection against getting severely sick from omicron.
Booster Shots for 16–17-Year-Olds
On December 9, the FDA authorized Pfizer-BioNTech booster shots for 16- and 17-year-olds. The approval came after company scientists stated that doses would likely only safeguard against severe cases of the new omicron variant, even in healthy young people, but three doses would be more protective. Teens can receive the shot six months after the second dose, the FDA said.