Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, says House Republicans’ plans to cut tens of billions of dollars in government spending back to FY’22 levels would “put people at risk,” including millions of seniors, veterans, and low-income Americans. DeLauro wrote to Cabinet secretaries and agency heads in January seeking their response to House GOP plans to reduce spending by $130 billion or more next year in order to hold funding at the FY’22 level. DeLauro stated “The draconian cuts would take away the opportunity for 80,000 people to attend college and impact all 6.6 million students who rely on Pell Grants. If implemented, 200,000 children will lose access to Head Start, and 100,000 children will lose access to childcare, undermining early education and parents’ ability to go to work. “As if that was not enough to deter these harmful cuts, 1.2 million women, infants, and children would lose vital nutrition assistance they receive through WIC.” Rep. DeLauro’s statement can be found here.
House Republicans appear to be lowering expectations that they can adopt a balanced-budget blueprint this year, while still keeping their commitment to cap next year’s spending at the FY’22 levels. The goal to balance the budget has not gone by the wayside, House Budget Chairman Arrington said it’s not the most important spending metric the GOP is eyeing in FY’24. “We have to get to 218,” votes he said, and without Democrats’ support that leaves the Republicans with only four votes to spare for defections, assuming full attendance. Arrington said Republicans remain committed to “the aspirational 10-year balance,” but he cautioned that it may not be feasible to adopt a budget resolution on the floor that would achieve it.
A House budget resolution will be delayed in part to allow for negotiations with President Biden on a debt limit increase paired with concessions on spending and other policies acceptable to Republicans, according to House Budget Chairman Arrington. Biden says he won’t negotiate at all over the debt ceiling. And any talk about fiscal policy, he says, won’t happen until Republicans produce their own budget blueprint. The Congressional Budget Office and other analysts say lawmakers and the White House have until sometime between June and September to figure out a debt limit resolution. However, unless everyone gets serious about finding a solution, the US could get dangerously close to going past the “x date” when the Treasury Department could miss payments on U.S. obligations.
Lawmakers have mostly endorsed the move by regulators to protect all deposits at Silicon Valley Bank in Santa Clara, Calif., and Signature Bank in New York City. But they have also tentatively started to discuss ways to avoid sending a general message that depositors above the $250,000 cap set by federal insurance don’t have to worry about their money. While some lawmakers worry banks and depositors would conclude all deposits will be guaranteed by the federal government, others feared customers at small and mid-sized banks would hear the opposite message and move their money to the two or three biggest banks considered “too big to fail.”
The Justice Department has asked the Supreme Court to overturn a lower court decision that struck down a federal law prohibiting gun possession for individuals under domestic violence restraining orders. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit in February based its decision on a Supreme Court case from last year that expanded Second Amendment rights.
The Congressional Budget Office said that it overestimated projections for federal health care spending between 2010 and 2020, and costs will likely remain lower than expected for at least another decade. The agency said the government spent less money per beneficiary than CBO had foreseen, amounting to $1.1 trillion. Slower growth in spending per beneficiary could help preserve the solvency of Medicare’s trust funds and keep Medicaid costs, already a big part of state budgets, from spiraling. It could also affect how both parties tackle the nation’s debt, which CBO projects to rise as a percentage of the economy because, in large part, of spending on Medicare and Social Security. If Medicare spending growth slows, national debt could be lower than forecasted. The report can be found here.
Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy said that Congress must increase funding to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including for programs designed around the lives and needs of Americans who are living with the disease. “We have the support of the Biden Harris administration, and we have the support at HHS, but without Congressional funding we can’t get there,” said Phillips, who delivered his remarks during the AIDS United annual AIDSWatch conference in Washington, D.C.
The world’s most popular gay dating app, Grindr, is participating in a nationwide effort to distribute free at-home HIV testing kits to populations most affected by the virus. “If you’ve got a way that you are testing, and it’s really working for you, then that’s great, and you should stick with that,” Jack Harrison-Quintana, director of the app’s social justice division, Grindr for Equality stated. “If you don’t, this is an additional way for you to get tested in a way that’s just about as easy as doing an at-home Covid test.”
Parents have filed a federal lawsuit against Florida’s two medical boards over recently enacted rules that ban gender-affirming care for minors. The Southern Legal Counsel, Human Rights Campaign Foundation and others filed the lawsuit in Tallahassee federal court. It seeks to block the state from implementing the ban that was approved by the Florida Board of Medicine and the Board of Osteopathic Medicine late last year.
Governor Reynolds (R) signed into law two bills that will restrict the rights of transgender young people in the state. Senate File 538, prohibits doctors from providing gender-affirming health care, including puberty blockers, hormones and surgeries, to transgender minors. Senate File 482, bars transgender students from using school restrooms or locker rooms that are consistent with their gender identity.
FDA officials are expected to decide within a few weeks whether to authorize a second booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine designed to target the Omicron variant for adults over age 65 and other people who are at high risk of developing severe infection. Some experts say it’s not clear whether an additional dose will provide better protection, but others argue that it may help, and they say patients have been asking for a second dose.
The World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that he expects the organization to declare an end to the COVID-19 pandemic later this year because statistics on the virus keep declining. “I am confident that this year we will be able to say that COVID-19 is over as a public health emergency of international concern.” For the first time, the weekly number of reported COVID deaths over a four-week period was lower than when WHO declared COVID a global pandemic three years ago.
A federal appeals court upheld a lower court decision to block the government from enforcing its COVID-19 vaccine requirement on federal employees — reversing a previous ruling from a smaller panel of its own judges. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in a rare en banc rehearing that a preliminary nationwide injunction on the vaccine mandate should remain in place while the case proceeds.
A ruling in the high-stakes Texas district abortion case could come any day, and while reproductive rights advocates are bracing for an adverse ruling, District Judge Kacsmaryk sent some mixed signals during his surprise hearing last week. He signaled he is weighing the legal precedent of a potential ruling to pull approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, asking plaintiffs whether an FDA drug approval had ever been reversed by a court. Meanwhile, FDA also made it clear at the hearing that it plans to file an appeal if the court reverses the agency’s more than 20-year-old approval of the abortion pill mifepristone. The case could have widespread consequences for all other FDA decisions, including drug approvals, as well as for other federal agency decisions. It could open the door for doctors to sue over “virtually any FDA action” that they think affects their business or their relationship with patients or that could cause adverse events for some of their patients, FDA and the Justice Department warn. FDA Commissioner Califf said that he stands by FDA’s approval process for mifepristone 23 years ago.
This week the Kansas House passed a bill that requires physicians to care for infants born alive during an abortion, despite no evidence this has happened in Kansas in decades. The chamber voted 88 to 34 to approve the “born alive” bill and send it to the state Senate. Similar legislation has been pursued at the federal level and in Republican-led statehouses nationwide.
Massachusetts State officials reminded pharmacies that they must stock all reproductive health medications including mifepristone, a drug that can safely end a pregnancy in its early stages and whose availability is the subject of dueling lawsuits. In a statement, the state Department of Public Health said the “clarifying guidance” came from the state Board of Registration in Pharmacy.
In a victory for abortion-rights supporters, the Republican-led but closely divided New Hampshire House rejected multiple bills to further restrict abortion access while also approving legislation to protect it.
The Oklahoma Supreme Court was deeply divided over the abortion question, with the 5-4 majority ruling on Tuesday that the state constitution protects a woman’s right to have an abortion to save her own life. The majority opinion states that the court did not rule on elective abortions. The majority opinion was accompanied by six separate concurring and dissenting opinions.
The Vermont Senate passed a bill that seeks to protect health care workers from disciplinary action for providing abortions and gender-affirming health care, and change insurance premium charges related to such care. The legislation defines reproductive and gender-affirming health care as legally protected “health care activities.”
Abortion will remain legal in Wyoming, at least temporarily, after a judge ordered that a newly enacted ban be blocked until further court proceedings in a lawsuit challenging it. After a three-hour hearing, A Teton County District Court granted a temporary restraining order, pausing a law that took effect on March 19, 2023. The law would make providing almost all abortions a felony punishable by up to five years in prison.