Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
July 15, 2022
This Week in Congress
House: House Appropriations Chair DeLauro said that the House plans to pass all 12 of the FY’23 bills prior to the August recess. The week of July 18, the House plans to take up a six-bill minibus which includes: Transportation-HUD, Agriculture, Energy-Water, Financial Services, Interior-Environment and Military Construction-VA. The week of the 25th of July, the House will take up a second minibus which will include Defense, Legislative Branch; Homeland Security; State-Foreign Operations; Commerce-Justice-Science; and Labor, Health, and Human Services and Education bills.
Senate: Senate Appropriations Chair Leahy is not planning to mark up FY’23 appropriations bills and instead will post draft bills on the committee website at the end of July unless there is a bipartisan agreement setting an overall spending cap for all 12 appropriations bills. Negotiations on the topline number stalled last month. Ranking Member Shelby has said he thinks it will be fall before a full bipartisan agreement can be reached. Because the Senate Appropriations Committee is tied 15-15, Democrats cannot report appropriations bill without GOP support. A major stumbling block has been President Biden’s budget requesting large increases for domestic programs, but only a small increase for defense. Republicans are insisting that Defense receive a much larger increase in FY’23.
NDAA: This week, by a vote of 329-101, the House passed its version of the FY’23 National Defense Authorization Act (HR 7900) to authorize $840.2 billion in national defense spending.
The Senate will take up its own version of the annual defense policy bill in the months to come.
The Pentagon policy bill, which has been enacted each of the past 61 years, would authorize funds for the Defense Department and national security programs within the Department of Energy. During the floor debate hundreds of amendments were offered and adopted including one requiring that all federal buildings offer free menstrual products in all restrooms.
Legislation: Today House Democrats plans to advance legislation to protect access to abortion. The first bill (HR 8296), by Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., would protect an individual’s ability to seek an abortion, and the ability of health care providers to carry out the procedure. The second bill (HR 8297), by Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, D-Texas, would prohibit state officials from interfering in interstate abortion services. The push by Democrats on abortion rights follows President Biden’s signing of an executive order to protect access to a range of reproductive health services, patient privacy, advance patient and provider safety, and coordinate the implementation of efforts among federal agencies.
Public Health Emergency: White House officials are actively debating whether to formally declare abortion access a public health emergency. But some advisers caution that such a move would be counterproductive against the overwhelming political pressure to show they are fighting hard for abortion rights. Several top Biden aides have expressed internal reservations about declaring an emergency, saying it would give the administration little money and few new powers.
Texas Lawsuit: Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R) sued the Biden administration over federal rules that require abortions be provided in medical emergencies to save the life of the mother, even in states with near-total bans. “The Biden Administration seeks to transform every emergency room in the country into a walk-in abortion clinic,” Paxton said in a statement announcing the lawsuit.
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
Statistics: Globally there are over 11,000 reported cases of monkeypox with more than 1,053 people in the US in 43 states infected with the virus. Most of cases are in men who have sex with men. There have been no reported deaths.
World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Meeting: Next week the WHO is expected to hold an emergency meeting to decide whether to declare monkeypox a global health emergency.
David Harvey, Executive Director of the NCSD, on Monkeypox: On July 14, 2022, David Harvey was interviewed on the PBS New Hour and stated that “Our system is severely burdened by this latest outbreak. We are referring to this as a sexually associated infection. We know there’s a vast undercount of cases because of slow rollout of testing and vaccines, and treatment present problems too. But the nation’s STD clinics are bearing the burden of responding to monkeypox. So this latest outbreak is very burdensome on an already overstretched network of safety net providers.” The interview can be found here.
Senator Richard Burr Letter on Monkeypox: Republican Senator Burr condemned the Biden administration’s response to the outbreak of monkeypox virus and called again for the creation of a new government office to deal specifically with pandemics. “The US is once again significantly behind the curve, failing to learn from the devastating effects of Covid-19, and other recent infectious disease threats, like Ebola and Zika.” Burr sent a letter to Secretary Becerra stating that the US response to monkeypox is “a threat to public health, and especially for gay and bisexual men who are at highest risk.” Burr the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension’s Committee has sparred with leaders of the CDC, NIH, and FDA during hearings on Covid, and has said the agencies “failed to lead as it relates to monkeypox.” In the letter, he urged HHS to develop a research plan to better understand how the current monkeypox outbreak differs from its appearance in countries where it is established, such as those in Central and Western Africa. He also criticized the administration for only recently involving commercial laboratories in testing and its slow deployment of monkeypox vaccines from the Strategic National Stockpile. The letter touted the HELP Committee’s bipartisan Prevent Pandemics Act, which would establish an Office of Pandemic Preparedness and Response Policy within the White House to help strengthen “the nation’s public health and medical preparedness and response systems.” The letter can be found here.
Vaccines: Nearly 800,000 more doses of monkeypox vaccine could be ready for distribution in the US by the end of July, following an FDA inspection of a Danish vaccine plant. About 780,000 doses are at the supplier in Denmark, according to officials at the Department of Health and Human Services. The FDA is allowing the Jynneos vaccine, the only one specifically approved by the agency to prevent monkeypox, to be flown to the US on special planes from Bavarian Nordic, the vaccine’s manufacturer in Denmark. The update on the vaccine supply comes amid heated criticism leveled at the FDA and other federal health agencies over the response to the monkeypox outbreak. In New York City, where demand for vaccines far outstrips supply, the city’s monkeypox vaccine appointment website crashed this week “due to overwhelming traffic,” the city said. White House coronavirus coordinator Ashish Jha said that a shipment of vaccines is expected from Denmark this week and that there will be more doses arriving “in the days and weeks ahead.”
Home Self-Collections Kits for Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s): Switch Health, a Canadian leader in decentralized medical diagnostics and health technology announced that it will make at-home self-collection kits for STIs testing available to Canadians this fall. Switch Health’s at-home STI Panel Collection Kit allows individuals to test for Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomoniasis, some of the most common curable STIs, with one simple urine sample.
COVID-19: The Omicron BA.5 variant is now dominating Covid-19 cases, but we have the vaccines and boosters, testing, and treatments to meet it, administration health officials stated. The Biden administration urged people to strengthen their protections against Covid-19, including boosters now that BA.5 accounts for two-thirds of U.S. infections. The variant is more adept than other Omicron versions at infecting people who’ve previously had Covid-19 or been vaccinated. Waning immunity leaves people more susceptible to infections, even as vaccine-elicited protection against more severe outcomes is broadly maintained. “We can prevent serious illness, we can keep people out of the hospital and especially out of the ICU, we can save lives,” Covid-19 response coordinator Ashish Jha said. “Even in the face of BA.5, the tools we have continue to work.”