Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
The House was out of session this week and will return on February 27.
The Senate was in session this week and continued to confirm judges and finalize Committee assignments.
This week the Senate unanimously passed a pair of resolutions condemning China for sending a surveillance balloon over the US, joining the House in formally decrying an incident that has prompted a bipartisan chorus of demands for accountability on Capitol Hill.
The first of the two measures, written by Senator Josh Hawley, a Republican from Missouri, condemns the Chinese Communist Party for an “invasion” of U.S. airspace, while calling on the president to be “transparent with the American people and Congress” about the spy balloon incident and other attempts at espionage from China.
The second, a bipartisan resolution from Senators Jon Tester, Democrat of Montana, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, rebukes China for a “brazen violation” of U.S. sovereignty with the spy balloon. The balloon alarmed Montanans who spotted it in their skies Feb. 1, and it spent some time hovering near sensitive military sites in the state.
Together, the measures bring the Senate into line with a gesture the House first made last week, when that chamber unanimously passed a resolution condemning the Chinese Communist Party for sending the balloon over U.S. airspace.
U.S. Senators Patty Murray (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME), Chair and Vice Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, respectively, announced the Appropriations Subcommittees chairs, ranking members, and full rosters for the 118th Congress. The memberships can be found here
Senate Democrats said that the Republican budget-cutting plans would trigger “drastic” cuts to critical programs. Speaker McCarthy promised to write the FY’24 appropriations bills at the FY’22 level to win over holdouts among his party’s right flank during his bid for speaker. Democrats calculate that discretionary spending would need to be cut by around $142 billion, or nearly 9 percent. If Republicans increase defense funding to match inflation and fund veterans medical care at levels required to meet previously authorized needs, nondefense spending would be cut by 30 percent to meet the GOP’s topline target. Those figures don’t factor in inflation. “They are calling for drastic, draconian cuts that will hurt families in every corner of this country, undermine our economy, jeopardize our national security, and limit our future,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Murray. The Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, led by Senator Stabenow, released a report laying out possible cuts if spending is returned to the FY’22 level.
A CBO report providing a 10-year budget forecast predicted the deficit will reach $1.4 trillion this year. The report also predicted the federal government will reach the debt ceiling between July and September. The CBO report can be found here.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said that the mpox outbreak will remain a global health emergency. As of Feb. 14, there have been 85,860 confirmed mpox cases globally, with 93 deaths. Outside of countries in West and Central Africa, the outbreak has primarily affected men who have sex with men.
The federal agency in charge of stockpiling vaccines and mobilizing supplies in health emergencies is being reorganized to apply lessons learned in the Covid pandemic. “It would be malpractice if we came out of a three-year pandemic and looked the same way as when we started” said Dawn O’Connell, HHS’s assistant secretary for preparedness and response. In recent years the agency has played a leading role in the Covid-19 pandemic, shortages of baby formula and other emergencies. The reorganization is intended to cement important programs that were established during the pandemic and make sure they have the funding and resources needed to continue doing that work. “One of my biggest fears is building all of this capacity and then losing it,” said O’Connell, and she wants the agency to be able to swiftly respond to whatever health threat comes next. To improve oversight and efficiency within the country’s health supply chain, the agency is also creating an Industrial Base Management and Supply Chain Office to help secure funding needed to scale up the domestic supply chain beyond the supplemental funding it’s gotten during the Covid pandemic. The reorganization comes on the heels of another major shakeup at the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention after the agency faced criticism for its handling of some aspects of the Covid pandemic.
Emergent BioSolutions Inc’s over-the-counter version of opioid overdose reversing drug received unanimous support from the FDA. The vote puts the naloxone-based treatment Narcan on track to potentially become the first opioid overdose drug to be sold OTC nationwide. Naloxone rapidly reverses or blocks the effects of an overdose, restoring normal respiration. The FDA will make a final decision on the drug in the next few weeks.
Nationally, conservatives are pushing dozens of proposals in statehouses to restrict transgender athletes, gender-affirming care and drag shows. But in measures like Kansas’, LGBTQ-rights advocates see a new, sweeping effort to erase trans people’s legal existence, deny recognition to nonbinary or gender-fluid people and ignore those who are intersex — people born with genitalia, reproductive organs, chromosomes and/or hormone levels that don’t fit typical definitions for male or female.
The Oklahoma legislature restrictions on gender transition services: The author of House Bill 2177 is state Rep. Kevin West, R-Moore. He pushed back on Democrats’ objections by arguing that his bill actually promotes gender-affirming health care because it affirms someone’s gender assigned at birth. “You are born a male or born a female,” West said.
Transgender teens, their parents and supporters protested outside the Mississippi Capitol on this week, calling on legislators to kill a measure that would ban gender-affirming health care for people younger than 18. House Bill 1125 passed the Republican-led House 78-30 on Jan. 19, with all opposition coming from Democrats. It awaits consideration in the Senate, which is also controlled by Republicans.
An Arkansas lawmaker shocked onlookers this week when he asked a transgender health care professional about her genitals at a hearing on a bill that would prohibit gender-affirming care for minors. Gwendolyn Herzig, a pharmacist who is a trans woman, was testifying Monday in support of the treatment for minors during a state Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
For the first time since the fight over abortion access was kicked to the states after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, newly elected legislatures around the country are coming into session and are putting the polarizing issue at the top of their agendas. Around 300 bills in 40 states have been proposed so far — with a majority seeking to restrict access to abortion, and others trying to strengthen it. Most of the bills are in the early stages, and many are not likely to survive politically divided state governments to make it into law. But if there is one thing that is evident, the legislative flurry shows that both sides of the debate agree on at least one point: Doctors are the critical link — and that has made them the most vulnerable to punishment. At least three dozen bills are aimed at doctors and other medical personnel as a way to regulate abortion.
For the second time since the U.S. Supreme Court ended federal abortion protections, the South Carolina House has passed a near-total abortion ban. The lower chamber’s Republican supermajority continued its efforts to make South Carolina the 13th state with a ban from conception. By a 83-31 vote largely along party lines, the House advanced a bill including exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomaly and the patient’s health and life.
Abortion access in Kentucky remained virtually shut off after the state’s highest court refused to halt a near-total ban that has largely been in place since Roe v. Wade was overturned. Kentucky’s Supreme Court, which was weighing challenges to the state’s near-total ban and a separate one that outlaws abortion after the sixth week of pregnancy, sent the case back to a lower court for further consideration of constitutional issues related to the more restrictive ban.
Republican lawmakers in Montana wield a supermajority that gives them the power to ask voters to approve a constitutional amendment that would break the link between abortion rights and the right to privacy in the state’s constitution. But so far, they haven’t sought to ask voters to make the change, a rewrite that would allow lawmakers to ban or further restrict abortion after the U.S. Supreme Court gave that power back to the states last year.
In an unexpected shift, Moderna has decided not to ask Americans to pay for its Covid-19 vaccine, a move that follows intense criticism over initial plans to charge $110 to $130 per dose after the company pivots from government contracts to commercial distribution.
A study published in The Lancet found that people who previously had Covid-19 were very likely to have immunity against severe disease and death for at least 10 months after infection. Those infected with pre-Omicron strains didn’t carry much protection from being infected by the newer versions, though protection against severe disease remained strong. The analysis suggests an earlier infection provides protection from reinfection, symptomatic disease and severe illness at a level on par with two doses of an mRNA vaccine. Still, the authors pointed out that vaccination is the safest way to gain immunity.