Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
March 25, 2022
The appropriations process begins on Monday, March 28, when the Administration submits their FY’23 budget requests to Congress. Top appropriators from both parties say they’re eager to get new spending bills passed before the end of the calendar year. That is particularly a priority in the Senate, where the top two appropriators will be retiring at the end of this Congress. Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vermont, and ranking member Richard Shelby, R-Alabama, say they want to get the spending bills finished on a timely basis. But the process will begin as last year’s did, without a top-line number and how to split the funds between defense and non-defense spending. It’s not clear how quickly congressional leaders would act to come up with a bipartisan spending deal. But Leahy suggested that talks could happen more quickly this year.
Senate Democrats and Republicans are discussing new ways to offset additional funds for a pandemic aid bill and are considering other options besides repurposing funds from the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief funds previously appropriated. The White House is still pushing for $22.5 billion it says is needed soon for the government to continue procuring therapeutics, testing supplies, and vaccines. Senate Republicans have withheld support for the additional funding for vaccines and therapeutics unless it is offset by clawing back unspent aid from previous pandemic relief laws.
After a combined 36 hours of hearings on Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson — during which Republicans accused her of coddling vile criminals while Democrats hailed her qualifications and her historic distinction as the first Black woman to be nominated — she appears to remain on track for confirmation early next month. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said that he will oppose Judge Jackson’s Supreme Court nomination. McConnell’s decision isn’t surprising — he voted against her last year for her appeals court spot and has signaled concerns through the week. Democrats have enough votes for her confirmation without Republican support, but it is expected that a few Republican senators will vote to confirm her nomination.
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
The Governor of Idaho signed a bill banning abortion after six weeks. The law allows the father, grandparents, siblings, uncles, or aunts of the fetus to sue a medical provider who performs the procedure.
South Dakota Governor Noem signed a bill that would make the state one of the most difficult places to get abortion pills, though most of the law will not be enacted unless the state prevails in a federal court battle.
Oklahoma is one step closer to copying a restrictive anti-abortion law implemented in Texas. But legislation advanced this week by the Oklahoma House is even more restrictive than the Texas law. The bill would effectively ban most abortions by allowing private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids or abets” someone who pursues the procedure.
The Arizona House passed aggressive anti-abortion legislation that outlaws abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
The FDA will hold a meeting on April 6 to discuss the possible need for additional COVID-19 booster shots. Pfizer and BioNTech, and then Moderna, have asked the FDA to approve additional boosters to help combat variants and keep COVID-19 numbers down. Peter Marks, the Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, stated, “Now is the time to discuss the need for future boosters as we aim to move forward safely, with COVID-19 becoming virus-like other such as influenza that we prepare for, protect against, and treat.”
Moderna announced this week that it will ask the FDA to authorize its Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use in children aged 6 months to 6 years, a group for which there are currently no authorized Covid vaccines. The company’s announcement came as it released interim data from two clinical trials of its vaccine in children under 6 years of age. Moderna said the studies showed the vaccine generated similar immune responses as those seen in adults aged 18 to 25 who received two doses of Moderna’s adult Covid vaccine.
CDC Director Walensky is taking steps to fix gaps in data that have caused issues during the COVID-19 pandemic and the agency’s ability to effectively respond. Over the last two years, the CDC has had difficulty keeping up with the spread of COVID-19 in large part due to the nation’s antiquated and aggregate public health data infrastructure. The CDC is asking its staff to improve how it collects and analyzes public health data. The effort to fix the data gaps comes amid calls by lawmakers and public health officials that the CDC find ways to ensure more accurate data to respond to the next pandemic and a more efficient way that the data can easily be shared with hospitals, state health departments, and the federal government.
The highly infectious BA.2 subvariant is quickly spreading across the world and now accounts for most new coronavirus infections in the Northeast US. Nationwide, the CDC said that the subvariant accounts for 35% of new infections, up from 22% a week ago.