Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
Congressional negotiators are working to strike a government funding deal before the current CR expires on February 18, 2022. Senate Appropriations Chair Leahy wants to have an omnibus bill complete a few days after lawmakers return from recess on January 31. Senate Appropriations Vice Chair Shelby was more skeptical about meeting the Feb. 18 deadline, though he acknowledged that negotiators have made progress. It’s possible that another short-term CR will be necessary to finish action on all twelve spending bills after the current CR expires. The final appropriations package could also include additional COVID-19 relief funds to address the Omicron variant and funding for pandemic-battered industries.
This week President Biden acknowledged that the Democrats’ BBB package may have to be substantially slimmed down. The President and House and Senate Democrats are still fighting for the childcare tax credit and help to defray the cost of community colleges. Democrats haven’t ruled out splitting up the package and passing pieces of the BBB through separate legislation.
This week all Senate Republicans blocked the Democrats’ election reform bill, the vote was 49-51 (60 votes required to cut off debate). The bill would have expanded early voting and make Election Day a federal holiday. Majority Leader Schumer made a final effort to temporarily change the filibuster rules to allow a simple majority vote on the bill. That was rejected 52-48 with Senators Manchin and Sinema joining Republicans in preserving the 60-vote threshold.
January 22, 2022 marks the 49th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark abortion ruling, Roe v. Wade. More states are ramping up restrictions on abortion care access and the abortion pill, mifepristone, but policy experts say state restrictions on the pill could be successfully challenged in court if they go further than the agency’s recently relaxed standards for mifepristone — which now allow the drug to be accessed remotely via telehealth — and impede on FDA’s safety purview.
At least 20% of the US population, or more than 66.4 million Americans, have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and over 850,000 have died from the disease since the pandemic started in early 2020. New models tracking the pandemic predict the country’s COVID-19 death toll could further increase by 50,000 to 300,000 through mid-March due to the surge in cases of the Omicron variant.
This week the Biden Administration launched a government website for free at-home COVID-19 test kits. The kits can be ordered here: https://www.covidtests.gov/ and here: https://special.usps.com/testkits. A free call line was also launched this week to help those unable to access the website to place orders — 1-800-232-0233 or TTY 1-888-720-7489.
The CDC has issued new guidance on masks, encouraging people to wear N95 or KN95s rather than cloth masks. The Administration will also make available, for free, 400 million N95 masks starting the week of January 24. Masks will be distributed at local pharmacies and community health centers.
HHS has extended the COVID-19 public health emergency for the eighth time, continuing flexibility and resources granted to health care professionals to care for COVID-19 patients, for another 90 days.