Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
January 6, 2023
This Week in Congress
House and Senate
The House and Senate reconvened this week to begin the 118th Congress.
Members of the Senate were sworn in, then the Senate adjourned until January 23. The House continues to vote to elect a new Speaker of the House.
As of this writing, after eleven votes over the past three days, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R- California) has been unable to garner the 218 votes needed to be elected as Speaker. Without a Speaker being elected, new and returning members have yet to be sworn in and take the oath of office; there are no rules governing day-to-day operations of the House; and committee assignments and hiring are on hold. Rep. McCarthy and his supporters, continue to work on the 20 Republican members who are opposing his Speakership, and are hoping to reach concessions on a rules package in order to garner sufficient votes to elect him a Speaker.
Other Legislative Happenings from Around the Nation
Student Debt Relief
This week the Biden Administration urged the Supreme Court to uphold the student-debt relief plan, defending the program that would affect more than 40 million borrowers. In court papers, the administration contends that the Education Department secretary has broad power to slash student debt given that millions of people are still facing financial hardship because of the coronavirus pandemic. “The secretary responded to the devastating economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic by granting targeted relief to borrowers at higher risk of delinquency and default due to the pandemic,” argued US Solicitor General Prelogar, the administration’s top courtroom lawyer. “That relief falls squarely within the secretary’s express statutory authority.” The justices are set to hear arguments Feb. 28. Lower court decisions are blocking the plan, and the Supreme Court last month declined to lift those rulings right away. Student loan payment obligations will remain paused until the case is resolved.
WHO warns the SARS-CoV-2 Omicron subvariant that now accounts for at least 40% of COVID-19 cases in the US is the most contagious subvariant that has been detected to date. But there’s no indication that it causes more severe disease than previous Omicron variants. White House COVID-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha, meanwhile, appeared to agree that the new subvariant is likely more immune-evasive and more transmissible than other Omicron subvariants, but he believes the oral COVID-19 antiviral drugs molnupiravir and Paxlovid should still work against infections.
A National Institutes of Health study suggests that COVID-19 vaccination is safe for kids 5 years and older who developed the rare but serious post-infection multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.
WHO’s New Mpox Guidance
For the first time since August, the WHO updated its mpox guidance, recommending that known case contacts avoid sexual contact with others for 21 days, whether symptomatic or not, given that transmission may occur before symptom onset.
CDC Describes Mpox Challenges in Trans Community
This week an article in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers describe American transgender mpox patients, suggesting that more than 70% of patients contracted the virus from sexual intercourse with cisgender men. “These men might be in sexual networks experiencing the highest mpox incidence,” the article stated.
Few Mpox Infections after One Vaccine Dose
A study of patients seen at London sexual health clinics found low numbers of mpox cases after vaccination with one dose of modified vaccinia Ankara. In the early months of the mpox outbreak, health officials embraced a one-dose vaccine to stretch limited supplies of the vaccine while acknowledging that the immune boost following one dose of the two-dose vaccine might not be enough.
Mpox Infects Fewer Women
Mpox has primarily hit adult gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men; women make up fewer than 3% of cases. Their racial gaps mirror the larger outbreak. Between May and Nov. 7, 2022, mpox was identified in 769 women over age 15 (2.7% of all reported cases); 44% were Black, 25% were white, and 23% were Hispanic. Also similar to men, nearly three-quarters of the infected women said they’d recently had sex or close intimate contact with a man. There were 23 pregnant or recently pregnant women infected with mpox, four of whom required hospitalization but all of them recovered. Two newborns received oral treatment and also did well. Still, clinicians are urged to monitor risk in women.
This week the pharmacies released their plan to offer abortion pills following the FDA’s decision to allow retail pharmacies to offer the drug in the US for the first time. This week the FDA finalized a rule allowing mifepristone to be dispensed by retail pharmacies, but sellers will have to weigh whether or not to offer the pill. The new FDA regulation still requires pharmacies to fill out paperwork to be certified to distribute mifepristone and also requires that they check the provider’s credentials as well. The certification is part of a risk management program that the FDA has required since the pill was first approved in 2000.
New Jersey will award $15 million in zero-interest loans and grants to health care facilities that provide abortion services for facility improvements and increased security, Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy said this week. The new financial aid stems from last year’s U.S. Supreme Court decision to strip away the federal right to abortion, the governor said in a statement.
The Idaho Supreme Court upheld multiple state laws prohibiting abortion in the state, ruling that there is no implicit right to abortion in the state’s constitution. The court ruled that three state laws prohibiting abortion at conception and after six weeks of pregnancy, as well as a Texas-style civil enforcement measure are constitutional as the state has a “legitimate interest in protecting prenatal fetal life in all stages of development, and in protecting the health and safety of the mother.”