Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
December 17, 2021
Senate appropriators continued talks this week to reach a framework to begin negotiations on Fiscal Year 2022 (FY 22) bills to avoid another continuing resolution when the current one expires on February 18. Discussions have been stalled for weeks on reaching an overall number for all 12 appropriations bills and policy riders, including eliminating the prohibition on federal funds for abortion. The other issue yet to be determined is how much to spend on the Department of Defense.
Reconciliation/Build Back Better (BBB)
On December 16, President Biden acknowledged that his $2 trillion BBB legislation would not be taken up by the Senate before the end of this year. The President expressed confidence that the BBB would eventually pass the Senate, and urged patience as negotiations continue with Senator Manchin, and others who continue to raise objections on provisions contained in the current package. The President further stated “It takes time to finalize these agreements, prepare the legislative changes, and finish all the parliamentary and procedural steps needed to enable a Senate vote. We will advance this work together over the days and weeks ahead.” The President’s statement was issued after Senate Democrats abandoned their plans to debate the BBB after it became clear that there was no way to secure the 50 votes needed to pass the legislation before the holiday recess.
On December 16, the President signed legislation to increase the debt ceiling to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its loan obligations. The bill lifts the government’s borrowing limit by $2.5 trillion, which is expected to allow the U.S. to cover its obligations into early 2023.
National Defense Authorization Act
On December 15, the Senate approved the FY 22 $768 billion defense authorization bill. President Biden is expected to sign legislation in the next few days.
After this week’s hearing, Senate HELP Committee Ranking Member Burr said that he expects bipartisan support for the confirmation of Robert Califf, the President’s nominee to be the next FDA Commissioner. It is expected that the committee will meet to vote on his nomination after the Congress reconvenes in January.
Other Happenings Around the Nation
On December 10, the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that Texas abortion providers could pursue a lawsuit against some state officials who bring disciplinary actions, but not against Texas judges, clerks or the state attorney general. The distinction could be key as the case returns to a federal district court in Texas, because abortion providers want to block all enforcement of the law. Being able to sue clerks would allow that to happen, but it’s not clear that suing the disciplinary officials could achieve the same result. At the same time, the court declined, in an 8-1 decision, to revive a lawsuit brought by the Justice Department, which had argued that the federal government should be able to seek to stop a Texas state law that curtails a constitutional right. The rulings means that the Texas law, written with the intent of avoiding legal challenges that could prevent it from going into effect, has successfully accomplished that for now. The best path for challenges could be through the Texas state courts, which, even if successful, could take years.
On December 16, the FDA permanently lifted a major restriction on access to abortion pills. It will allow patients to receive the medication by mail instead of requiring them to obtain the pills in person from specially certified health providers. The F.D.A.’s action means that medication abortion, an increasingly common method authorized in the U.S. for pregnancies up to 10 weeks’ gestation, will become more available to women who are unable to travel to an abortion provider or prefer to terminate a pregnancy in their homes. It allows patients to have a telemedicine appointment with a provider who can prescribe abortion pills and send them to the patient by mail. In 19 states, mostly in the South and the Midwest, telemedicine visits for medication abortion are banned, and these and other conservative states can be expected to pass other laws to further curtail access to abortion pills.
New cases are up 40% in the U.S. over the past two weeks. Hospitalizations are up 21% and deaths are up 34%.
A federal appeals court, on December 15, effectively revived a Biden administration vaccine mandate for health workers at hospitals that receive federal funding in roughly half of the U.S. The procedural ruling by the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals scaled back a nationwide injunction put in place by a Louisiana-based federal judge late last month.
President Biden has ordered enough of Pfizer’s COVID-19 antiviral pills to treat 10 million Americans, after the company reported the drug reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% in high-risk adults.
The CDC has warned people not to travel to Italy, placing one of Europe’s top tourist destinations on its highest-risk category for the coronavirus. The agency also added the Danish autonomous territory of Greenland and the small African island of Mauritius to the avoid travel list.