Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
Following the successful passage of its $1.9 trillion pandemic relief legislation, the American Rescue Plan (H.R. 1319), the Biden administration is setting the stage for an anticipated $3 trillion infrastructure, climate change, and education reform proposal that has already stoked heavy GOP opposition. Senate Minority Leader McConnell has described the proposal as a potential “Trojan horse for massive tax hikes and other job-killing left-wing policies.” As such, Democratic leaders are once again considering the budget reconciliation process to advance the package and avoid GOP filibuster.
Last Friday, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1868, 246-175, extending the temporary sequestration cuts freeze to Medicare provider reimbursement and waiver of statutory PAYGO rules. Alternatively, Senate Republicans aren’t ready to move on a deal. Absent Senate passage, the PAYGO rules will trigger nearly $381 billion in cuts over the next five years.
Vaccines and Vaccinations
The Biden Administration set a new goal on Thursday to administer 200 million COVID-19 shots within his first 100 days after the initial “100 million shots in 100 days” goal was reached 42 days ahead of schedule on his 58th day in office.
By Monday, the U.S. had administered 127 million vaccine doses and approximately 32 percent of adults had received at least one dose, according to the CDC. Currently, over 133 million doses have been administered.
States are beginning to make more people eligible to receive the doses. And states like Mississippi, West Virginia, and Alaska have already dismantled restrictions now making all adult residents eligible for vaccination. The Biden Administration has directed the remaining states to make all adults eligible by the first of May 2021.
The U.S. AstraZeneca trials studying 32,000 volunteers indicate that the two-dose vaccine is effective in preventing both mild and serious forms of the disease. In an initial statement, the company said the vaccine, already approved in more than 70 countries, reduced symptomatic disease by 79 percent and severe Covid-19 and hospitalization by 100 percent. The company, however, updated the efficacy results on Wednesday, adjusting down to 76% but showing that efficacy rose from 80 percent to 85 percent for people over age 65. This adjustment came one day after AstraZeneca’s efficacy announcement from officials of the National Institute of Health’s Data and Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) expressed concerns that the company may have included “outdated information” that provided an “incomplete view of the efficacy data.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine benefits include the ability to be transported and stored at normal refrigerator temperatures for at least six months. The drug will need emergency use authorization from the FDA. Last week, President Biden announced that the U.S. will donate 2.5 million doses of the vaccine to Mexico and another 1.5 million does to Canada.
New U.K. Variant:
This week began with reports from White House Chief Medical Advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, of the highly contagious U.K. variant accounting for up to 30 percent of new U.S. COVID-19 infections.