Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
December 9, 2022
This Week in Congress
House and Senate
The House and Senate were in session this week and continued to work on a comprise on the FY’23 omnibus appropriations bill, the National Defense Authorization, and the Respect for Marriage Act.
On December 9, 2022, Arizona Senator Kyrsten Sinema registered as an independent, upsetting the Democrats’ plans for a clean 51-seat majority in the chamber. Her move won’t affect the overall control of the Senate next year, but it could complicate the party’s agenda. Sinema said she didn’t intend to caucus with the Republicans. With Georgia Senator Warnock’s reelection, Democrats secured a 51-seat majority in the Senate. That would allow them stronger control of committees and Senate activity than the 50-50 balance of the last two years, which Democrats controlled only through tie-breaking voted by Vice President Harris. Sinema’s party switch will complicate the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans next year.
House Minority Leader McCarthy is still short of the votes needed to be elected Speaker on January 3. To date, there are four hard no votes against McCarthy — Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Bob Good (R-Va.); Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) who has announced he’ll challenge McCarthy for speaker on the floor; and Montana Rep. Matt Rosendale. McCarthy is leaning toward pushing the election of contested committee chairs until January. The Steering Committee, which recommends who will serve on committees and wield gavels, was initially scheduled to consider the full slate of chairs this week. The GOP conference typically selects each committee’s top lawmaker after Election Day so they can build up their staff and get ready for the next Congress. But as part of McCarthy’s quest to try to win the votes of the majority of the House, he’s put the election off to avoid angering lawmakers about who does – and doesn’t – get to chair key committees and subcommittees.
Senate Democratic Leadership
This week the Senate Democratic Caucus elected their leadership team. Senator Schumer was elected for another two years as majority leader. The caucus voted unanimously to elect Schumer and Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). Democrats also elevated Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), to president pro tempore. Murray will be the first woman to hold the role, putting her third in the presidential line of succession behind Vice President Kamala Harris and the House speaker. Others elected to leadership posts include:
Deputy conference secretary. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)
Steering Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)
Conference Vice Chair Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
Conference Vice Chair Mark Warner (D-Va.)
Outreach Chair Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Vice Chair Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)
Conference Secretary Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)
Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Vice Chair Cory Booker (D-N.J.)
Negotiators on the omnibus appropriations bills remain stalled over nondefense spending. Early next week Democrats plan to release a new version of the omnibus appropriations bill in hopes of moving the process forward and attracting bipartisan support. Top Senate GOP appropriator Shelby said at least one more CR will be needed, probably through December 23. But he said it was possible that talks could continue right up until Congress adjourn sine die. Senate Minority Leader McConnell said a short-term CR into early next year “may end up being the only option left that we could agree to pursue.”
This week, by a vote of 350 to 80, the House passed the FY’23 defense authorization bill. The $858 billion bill is an 8% increase over FY22 defense levels and is $45 billion more than the Administration requested. The Senate is expected take up the bill sometime next week.
Respect for Marriage Act
This week the House, by a vote of 258-169, passed the Respect for Marriage Act and sent the bill to the President for signature. The legislation repeals the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which: barred the federal government from respecting the marriages of same-sex couples who were married under state law, excluding them from federal recognition including Social Security survivor benefits, the ability to sponsor a spouse for citizenship and equitable tax treatment. It also said that the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the Constitution doesn’t require states to respect the marriages of same-sex couples performed by other states.
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
Mpox Public Health Emergency
As of February 1, 2023, the mpox will no longer be considered a public health emergency in the United States. The move signals that the crisis, which led to virus cases mostly among men who have sex with men, has come under control and would no longer require an emergency status meant to shore up funding and tools to fight the disease.
Mpox Vaccine Effectiveness
People who received one or two doses of mpox vaccine contracted the infection at substantially lower rates than unvaccinated people, according to a CDC study. The analysis showed that unvaccinated people were 9.6 times more likely than fully vaccinated people to develop mpox. The incidence of infection was 7.4 times higher in unvaccinated people than in people who had received a single dose of the vaccine. The vaccinated participants had received their most recent shot at least 14 days prior to having been infected.
FDA’s Blood Donor Policy for Gay and Bisexual Men
Gay and bisexual men could soon face fewer barriers to donating blood under tentative FDA plans for individual risk-based blood donor screening questions as a means to reduce the risk of HIV transmission. Under the FDA’s current policy, all men who have had sex with men in the past three months are ineligible to donate blood. The change would mark a shift from decades-long restrictions and would fall in line with the approach several other countries already take on donations from men who have sex with men. But public health professionals say it’s likely that not all gay and bisexual men will be eager to line up at blood drives if the FDA eases its restrictions, citing the years of policies the LGBT community and advocacy groups have long considered discriminatory, as well as lingering stigma associated with HIV diagnosis and transmission. A coordinated effort among federal, state, and local governments partnering with LGBT leaders will be required to communicate how improved science around HIV transmission and increased availability of treatments supports a shift in donor requirements, health workers say. But some in the community feel that a policy change isn’t going to change how gay, bi, and other men who have sex with men feel about how they’ve been treated as a community.
CDC Director Walensky stated that flu hospitalizations have hit their highest levels for this time of year in a decade. Pairing that with rising Covid-19 cases and respiratory syncytial virus rates that continue to creep up in some parts of the country, and you’ve got “a perfect storm for a terrible holiday season.”
Updated COVID-19 Vaccine for Kids
This week the FDA authorized an updated booster shot of Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine for young children, saying the inoculation would offer increased protection amid a wave of respiratory illnesses that is increasing peril for youngsters. This means the youngest Americans will have access to variant-targeting boosters already available to older children and adults. The FDA officials said children 6 months through 5 years old would be eligible for the bivalent booster two months after they had completed Moderna’s two-dose primary series.
Lawyers are advising employers to beef up their health-related travel benefits to emphasize equal access for all employees as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission begins to target employers that have expanded travel coverage for abortions. EEOC’s charges come as new data indicate the rate of abortions accessed by Americans has ticked up, reversing a years-long decline. While litigation over state bans continues in several states, abortion activists scored a win in Indiana after a judge ruled the state’s ban violates religious freedom protections enacted by statehouse Republicans. Abortion access has been temporarily restored in Indiana while litigation continues.