Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
House Appropriations Chair Granger announced new rules that will ban community funded projects/earmarks from the Labor-HHS-Education, Financial Services and Defense bills and will also continue the ban in the State-Foreign Operations and Legislative Branch bills. Chair Granger also capped the earmarks at 0.5 percent of total discretionary spending for FY’24. The FY’23 omnibus bill included $15.3 billion in earmarks, which accounted for around 0.9 percent of discretionary spending. Eligibility for community funded projects /earmarks can be found here
The Supreme Court is set to hear several cases that will test the power of administrative agencies to allocate funds in ways that critics say usurps the authority of Congress. This week the court heard oral arguments in two cases to determine whether President Biden can use a 2003 law to forgive up to $20,000 in student loans for borrowers without action by Congress. The justices are set to decide if the Biden administration has the power to implement the loan forgiveness program but also if the courts should even allow the lawsuits to challenge the program. The lawsuit was filed by a group of Republican-led states as well as borrowers who don’t qualify for the program. Biden’s program faces a conservative Supreme Court that has been skeptical when agencies appear to overstep the powers Congress gave them, legal experts say. In this case, the Biden administration says Secretary of Education Cardona can alter student loan terms in emergency situations. Legal scholars have said that in order for the Biden administration to win it would have to convince at least two of the six justices on the conservative wing of the court, along with all three of the justices on the liberal wing.
The Senate voted unanimously Wednesday night to require the Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines to declassify information on the origin of Covid-19.
On March 1, after nearly three years, the federal government ended the pandemic-era extra payments for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The average household will lose $95 a month for groceries. States, food banks, and assistance groups have been scrambling to prepare for the onslaught of people who could struggle with hunger, especially kids, older Americans, and those with chronic illnesses.
Eli Lilly & Co., facing pressure to curb diabetes-treatment costs, will cut the list prices for its most commonly prescribed insulin products by 70%, and take other steps to make it easier for patients to afford the drugs. The company said the price cuts are for Humalog and Humulin, its two biggest-selling insulin products. Lilly said that it will automatically cap the out-of-pocket costs for its insulin products at $35 a month for those with commercial insurance. Patients without insurance can apply for the company’s Insulin Value Program, which also entitles them to a cap of $35 per month for the company’s insulin products. The move, experts say, could prompt other insulin makers in the U.S. to follow suit. Senate HELP Committee Chair Sanders released a statement applauding the move and calling for Sanofi and Novo Nordisk to do the same. This follows the Inflation Reduction Act which capped insulin for Medicare recipients at the $35 a month rate.
In a first, the FDA has issued an emergency use authorization for a combo at-home test for Covid and the flu. The test, performed using a nasal swab, can differentiate between influenza A and B as well as Covid with results in about 30 minutes.
FDA officials narrowly backed an experimental vaccine from Pfizer that could soon become the first shot to protect older adults against RSV. The FDA panel voted 7-4 on two separate questions of whether Pfizer’s data showed the vaccine was safe and effective against the respiratory virus for people 60 and older. One panelist abstained from voting. The recommendation still needs final approval from the FDA commissioner and the CDC before it will be available to the public.
Pfizer Inc and its German partner BioNTech SE have applied for emergency use authorization of their Omicron-adapted COVID-19 vaccine in the US as a booster dose for children aged six months through four years. The Omicron-adapted vaccine is currently authorized by the U.S. health regulator as the third dose of the three-dose primary course of vaccination in the country for children in this age group.
The Biden administration has proposed a new rule from CMS, DOL, and the IRS, that would eliminate exemptions in contraceptive coverage based on moral objections. This rule proposal is part of an HHS effort to strengthen access to reproductive health care and family planning services following the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs, which effectively eliminated the right to abortion, allowing states to enact trigger laws restricting access to the procedure. Critics of this rule have claimed it to be a swipe at people of conviction, and several religious leaders have expressed concern around these modifications. The rule can be found here
The nation’s second-largest pharmacy chain will not dispense abortion pills in several states where they remain legal. Nearly two dozen Republican state attorneys general wrote to Walgreens in February, threatening legal action if the company began distributing the drugs.
The Governor of Tennessee signed legislation that blocks physicians from providing treatments to minors related to their gender identity, one of dozens of bills moving through legislatures that would impose limits on access to transgender healthcare for children and teenagers.
Twenty House Republicans have introduced a bill stating that life begins at conception and banning all abortions in Iowa. But legislative leaders say they don’t expect to advance the measure this year as they wait on the outcome of a state Supreme Court case.
Many doctors in Texas who treat pregnant patients are extremely concerned regarding the language in one of the state’s abortion bans that allows people to take civil action against anyone who “aids or abets” abortion.
The Michigan House of Representatives moved to repeal Michigan’s 1931 ban on abortion, which remains on the books even though it was rendered unenforceable when the state’s voters overwhelmingly approved a proposal to enshrine the right to an abortion in the constitution.
Lawmakers advanced a measure to limit where people can get abortions in Utah, banning abortion clinics and effectively requiring they only be provided in hospitals. Governor Cox supports the legislation.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office approved language in a petition to enshrine abortion rights in Ohio’s state constitution. Republican Attorney General Yost determined that the summary submitted by a pair of abortion rights groups is a fair and truthful representation of the proposed change to Ohio law.