Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
On Thursday, HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra testified before the LHHS subcommittee to present HHS’s FY’22 Budget Proposal. Sen. Patty Murray opened the hearing praising a number of inclusions within the proposal, stating that she was “pleased to say [the] budget represents a world of change from the past few years on healthcare and a roadmap on progress for years to come.” Highlighting various inclusions like the plan to eliminate the Hyde Amendment and other “important steps to prioritize women’s health.” The Ranking Member, Sen. Roy Blunt utilized his opening statement to highlight “unrestrained” transfer of appropriated funds from various programs – including the transfer of $850 million of ARP COVID-19 funding to supporting unaccompanied children to “deal with the fallout of border policies that just simply aren’t working.” Sen. Blunt also highlighted last week’s transfer of another $846 million to the same program from accounts intended for community health centers, behavioral health centers, workforce training, the public health workforce, and other programs.” Republicans did highlight their alignment on certain Biden infrastructure plan inclusions though, like the creation of an Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health.
Democrats and Republicans remain hundreds of billions of dollars apart on an agreeable size or scope of the President’s much anticipated and highly publicized infrastructure package On Tuesday, President Biden spoke with Senator Capito (who represented GOP interests) to continue infrastructure package negotiations but rapidly called off negotiations on Wednesday only to resume a new round of negotiations with a bipartisan coalition of 20 senators, including Sens. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), Mitt Romney (R-UT), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) the next day. Hill sources say the group has been preparing an $878 billion infrastructure proposal that remains unfinalized. The President’s lacking confidence in bipartisan negotiations is becoming clear after he instructed Democratic leadership to begin working on a budget resolution that can be tapped to pass the administration’s American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. The resolution would be a return to the budget reconciliation process used to pass H.R. 1318, The American Rescue Plan and circumvent the 60-senator supermajority threshold that would be required to overcome a filibuster. Chair Yarmuth of the House Budget Committee is leading the preparation of this $1.5 trillion deeming resolution that will likely advance the appropriations process with markups in June and floor action in July.
Earlier this week, Senate Appropriations Chairman Leahy announced that lawmakers should begin bipartisan talks in both Chambers about top-line spending levels. Republicans and Democrats are mostly aligned on defense and non-defense spending increases. Senate Appropriations Committee Ranking Member, Sen. Shelby highlighted the likelihood of lawmakers’ reliance on CRs to avoid a government shutdown on October 1st of this year due to this year’s late start in the funding process and the unlikelihood of a deal being reached before winter 2021.