Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
On Monday, President Biden met with a group of Republican senators who shared a counterplan to his proposed $1.9 trillion COVID rescue package. The Republican plan, totaling $618 billion, diverged significantly from the Biden plan – dedicating $220 billion for $1,000 direct payments to households, $160 billion for a national vaccine program, $40 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and $130 billion for state unemployment insurance $300/week boosts. Despite the differences, Sen. Susan Collins – speaking for her Republican colleagues – expressed positive sentiments surrounding the bipartisan conversation with the administration while still highlighting that no formal bipartisan agreement had been reached.
However, after weeks of cumbersome negotiation, Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell reached a power-sharing agreement, Wednesday, for governing the 50-50 split in the Senate. The organizing resolution, now permitting Democrats to take control of Senate committees, was approved by unanimous consent.
House Republicans voted by secret ballot on Wednesday evening (145-61) in favor of keeping Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney in leadership. The vote is part of what has been deemed a “civil war” within the Republican Party after Rep. Cheney, alongside 9 other Republican colleagues, voted in favor of impeaching former President Donald Trump. The House convened on Thursday to vote in favor of a resolution (H Res 72) that removed Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green from her committee assignments.
The House and Senate also passed budget resolutions that give instructions to authorizing committees to draft a reconciliation bill that will contain the language to be included in the COVID-19 package. Fifteen hours and 14 roll call votes later, at 5:30 am Friday, the Senate voted 51-50 to adopt a budget resolution for the administration’s $1.9 trillion virus relief package. House and Senate committees (like the House Energy and Commerce Committee responsible for drafting relevant health proposals that will be included in the package) will have until February 16th to write the stimulus legislation. Democrats hope to pass the COVID relief legislation by March 14 – the day that current enhanced unemployment benefits expire.
Last Friday, the CDC issued an order that went into effect Monday night at 11:00 pm mandating all people using public transportation to wear a face covering. Now – a week after the order – the U.S. has surpassed 440,000 coronavirus-related deaths and a reported average of 117,000 people diagnosed each of the past 7 days. Despite the statistics, new cases, hospitalizations, and death averages dropped significantly this week. Currently, 35 million vaccination doses have been administered – constituting 8.5% of the population given at least 1 shot and 2.1% of the population given 2 shots. So far, the U.S. has administered an average of 1.3 million shots per day.
Johnson & Johnson applied for FDA emergency use authorization on Thursday following news of their newly developed one-shot vaccination which — based on an international trial of 44,000 volunteers – is 72% effective in the U.S. and 85% effective globally. The news comes as Pfizer announced its expectation to sell $15 billion worth of their new vaccine.