Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
The President, Vice President, First Lady, and Second Gentleman, and other Biden administration officials were dispatch across to nation to begin travel to promote the recently passed American Rescue Plan Act, H.R. 1319, and its latest round of COVID-19 pandemic relief. Biden traveled this week to Pennsylvania and Georgia to highlight the benefits included in the plan and to promote that it works. While the First Lady spoke at an elementary school in New Jersey, the Vice President and First Gentleman departed for Las Vegas Monday morning to promote the plan.
By mid-week, some reports demonstrated that the American Rescue Plan may be “Rescuing.” A Wednesday statement from the Federal Reserve’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), said that economic activity in the U.S. has “turned up” in the past few months, albeit slowly, and has made the decision to leave interest rates unchanged. The statement highlighted that “overall financial conditions remain accommodative, in part reflecting policy measures to support the economy and the flow of credit to U.S. households and businesses.” The FOMC anticipates the nation’s unemployment rate to drop to 4.5% by this year’s end pre-COVID levels should not be expected until 2023.
The President also announced his appointment of Gene Sperling, former National Economic Council Director, to oversee the implementation of the American Rescue Plan Act and the $1.9 trillion that will be disbursed to combat the pandemic’s devastating impacts.
On Wednesday, House Republicans ended their decade-long ban on earmarks. The new lift on restriction, however, comes with new rules requiring public disclosure of project requests, a certification from members confirming that they do not have any personal or family financial interest in the requested project, and a statement evidencing that there is enough support in the location for the project. Also, there will also be a limit of ten requests per member, a ban on projects for for-profit interests, and House Appropriations Chairwoman DeLauro specified that the new guidelines would have a funding cap of 1% of discretionary spending. It is expected that Senate Republicans will also lift their conference ban on earmarks.
The Biden administration launched an all-agency-hands-on-deck vaccine education campaign this week to combat persisting vaccine hesitancy planning to reach underserved, rural, and conservative Americans and targeted at combatting vaccine misinformation. The effort will be funded through provisions within the Administration’s recently passed American Rescue Plan Act, H.R. 1319.
The vaccine education campaign followed public health officials’ concern and conservative policymakers’ admission that Republicans, specifically men, were also more likely to avoid getting the COVID vaccination. After media and legislative pressure, former president Trump in an interview with Fox News Primetime’s Maria Bartiromo encouraged his supporters to get vaccinated, expressing: “I would recommend it to a lot of people that don’t want to get it and a lot of those people voted for me, frankly. But again, we have our freedoms and we have to live by that and I agree with that also. But it is a great vaccine. It is a safe vaccine and it is something that works.”
By Monday morning, the U.S. had administered more than 107 million COVID-19 vaccine doses and more than 66 million Americans had received at least one dose of the vaccine. CDC data now highlights that more than 27.9 percent of adults in the U.S. have received at least one dose of the three vaccines currently available to the American public. Over 15 percent of adults have been fully vaccinated so far.
This week, Moderna began its KidCOVE study to test its COVID-19 vaccine in young children as young as six months old this week. The company announced on Tuesday that they have begun inoculating children ages 6 months to 12 years old and will give each child two doses of the vaccine, 28 days apart. Pfizer has similarly announced its intention to study younger children but will first focus on kids ages 12 to 15 years old. Pfizer is currently testing the outcome of its vaccine in pregnant women. News of this child vaccination announcement coincides with the Biden administration’s announcement of its intention to spend $10 billion through the CDC on COVID school screenings to assist with in-person learning.
Additionally, two Florida pediatricians reported this week that they have found evidence of a baby born with COVID-19 antibodies after testing of the umbilical cord even after the mother had only received one dose of the Moderna vaccine. The findings suggest that antibodies can be passed from mother to child.
The Senate confirmed Deb Haaland as the U.S.’s first Native American cabinet secretary and Secretary of the Interior Department on Monday. On Thursday, the Senate also Confirmed California Attorney General, Xavier Becerra’s nomination for HHS Secretary. Becerra’s confirmation makes him the first Latino to lead the massive health department despite heavy opposition from GOP officials due to the appointee’s stances on reproductive health and “Medicare for All.”
On Wednesday, the Senate HELP Committee also advanced two Biden administration health nominations.
The IRS has extended the 2020 tax filing deadline to May 17, 2021.