Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
March 18, 2022
FY’22 Omnibus Appropriations Bill
On March 15, 2022, President Biden signed the $1.5 trillion Omnibus appropriations bill into law. The bill will fund the Federal government through fiscal year 2022 which ends in September. The bill includes $730 billion in non-defense funding and $782 billion in defense funding. The legislation also provides $13.6 billion in supplemental funding to boost humanitarian, security and economic assistance related to the Ukraine conflict.
Administration officials are expecting to submit the President’s FY’23 budget possibly March 28, but sources stated that is it more likely to be on April 4. Houses Majority Leader Hoyer stated that one of the mistakes in the FY’22 process, and the reason for the almost six-month delay in completing action on the FY’22 budget, was that fact that there was no top line discretionary spending level. “It took a lot of time to get the agreement between the House and the Senate because the committees were marking to different numbers,” Hoyer said. “That’s not a very successful way to proceed.” During the FY’22 signing ceremony, Hoyer began conversations with top lawmakers about coming to a quick agreement on the top line spending for FY’23.
After the $15 billion in additional aid for pandemic relief was stripped from the FY’22 omnibus appropriations bill, Speaker Pelosi advised the Biden administration to seek tens of billions of dollars more in emergency COVID-19 relief, suggesting it will take more than $40 billion to meet the testing, vaccine and therapeutic needs of the U.S. and the larger global community. Yesterday Pelosi told Secretary of Health and Human Services Secretary Becerra and Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, that she was sorry they needed to come before House members from the President’s own party to call for $15 billion to continue the U.S. fight against Covid, domestically and abroad.
PREVENT Pandemics Act
This week the Senate HELP committee reported out the pandemic preparedness bill by a vote of 20-2. Senators Murray and Burr legislation contains provisions to expedite FDA review of medical countermeasures, give the agency new and expanded authorities to help stem drug and device shortages, revamp the way the Strategic National Stockpile is managed, and require HHS’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority to ramp up domestic manufacturing. The bill includes a new section dedicated to improving biosafety and biosecurity in the US and requires the White House Office of Science Technology and Policy to establish a strategy for maintaining and coordinating biosafety level 3 and 4 laboratories that are owned by the federal government. OSTP also would need to review existing federal policies on research proposed for federal funding that might involve the creation, transfer, or use of pathogens of pandemic potential. The bill also would codify the National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity and task the board with providing departments and agencies with technical advice, guidance and recommendations related to biosafety and biosecurity oversight of biomedical research.
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
The confirmation hearing of Ketanji Brown Jackson will begin on Monday. March 21 with Judiciary Committee members’ opening statements. Jackson will have 10 minutes to introduce herself. On Tuesday, senators will question Jackson for 30 minutes apiece, in order of seniority, followed by 20-minute rounds of questions Wednesday. The hearings wrap up Thursday, with testimony from the American Bar Association and character witnesses. Senate Minority Leader McConnell said that a potential GOP line of attack is expected during the confirmation hearings. McConnell stated “her supporters look at her resume and deduce a special empathy for criminals. I guess that means that government prosecutors and innocent crime victims start each trial at a disadvantage and that if any judicial nominee really does have special empathy for some parties over others, that’s not an asset, it’s a problem.” McConnell’s comments came a day after Senator Josh Hawley questioned the nominee’s treatment of sex offenders when she sat on the U.S. Sentencing Commission, a panel that works to make criminal sentences fairer. White House Press Secretary Psaki dismissed Hawley’s assertions Thursday, saying he “took a snippet of a transcript” out of context.
Daylight Savings Time
This week, by a unanimous voice vote, the Senate approved the Sunshine Protection Act which would make daylight saving time permanent. The bill would allow Arizona and Hawaii, which do not observe daylight saving time, to remain on standard time as well as American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Daylight saving time has been in place in nearly all of the US since the 1960s after being first tried in 1918. Year-round daylight savings time was used during World War II and adopted again in 1973 in a bid to reduce energy use because of an oil embargo, but was repealed a year later. The White House has not said whether Biden supports the Senate bill. A spokesman for House Speaker Pelosi declined to say if she supports the measure but said she was reviewing it closely.
U.S. Covid-19 metrics continue to show improvement, with cases, hospitalizations, and deaths down dramatically from their peaks just two months ago. But some experts are growing increasingly concerned that the positive trends may be slowing down or even headed for reversal. Europe has seen a surge of cases in recent weeks, and the situation there has typically foreshadowed that in the US. Government scientists confirmed that there has been an uptick in the presence of Covid-19 in wastewater samples across the U.S. The CDC acknowledged the increase after wastewater sample sites showed a rise in Covid cases from March 1 to March 10.
Dr. Ashish Jha: Logistics expert Jeff Zients, who has headed the White House covid-19 response team since the start of the Biden administration, is stepping down and will be replaced by public health expert Dr. Ashish Jha, who will take a leave from his post as Dean of the School of Public Health at Brown University.
Biotechnology company Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech have both asked the FDA to allow a fourth COVID-19 shot. Moderna requested approval for adults aged 18 and older to receive a second booster shot while Pfizer/BioNTech requested from authorization a second booster shot for adults 65 and older.