Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
The Senate was in session this week.
President Biden, Speaker McCarthy and other congressional leaders met earlier this week to discuss raising the debt limit. Another meeting was scheduled for May 12 but was delayed until early next week while staff from both camps planned to continue to discuss a path forward. Whether the delay signaled potential progress toward a bipartisan deal that would avert a debt ceiling breach remains to be seen. Treasury Secretary has said the deadline to lift the spending cap is June 1, after which agency officials aren’t confident they’ll be able to pay all the nation’s bills as they come due. The two parties’ leaders have been trying to get on the same page about what’s on the table and find a middle ground. The Democrats want a “clean” debt limit increase, preferably through the 2024 elections; the House Republicans’ bill would raise the limit until the first quarter of next year while extracting some $4.8 trillion in long-term deficit reduction.
The ongoing debt limit impasse will push back some of the House Appropriations subcommittee markups scheduled for next week. The Committee still plans to mark up the Legislative Branch, Homeland Security and Military Construction-VA bills, but will delay Defense, Energy-Water and Financial Services bills until a later date. House Transportation-HUD Appropriations Chairman Cole said that he still expects all 12 bills will move out of the committee by July 4, and said bills could start reaching the House floor later this month or at the beginning of June. Republicans are writing their appropriations bills to the levels which represent a $131 billion cut below the FY’23 enacted level. Topline negotiations in the Senate between Chair Murray and ranking member Collins are on hold pending the resolution of the debt ceiling debate.
The Military Construction-VA bill is at the center of the debt ceiling talks. Democrats argue that the spending caps in the House passed debt ceiling bill would harm veterans, along with the over $2 billion in leftover pandemic spending for veterans’ health care that the bill would claw back. However, Republican appropriators have vowed to protect defense, veterans, and border security funding from cuts. McCarthy said that the Military Construction-VA bill would be released next week and show increased funding for veterans.
The House is postponing consideration of its FY’24 NDAA while Congress works to resolve the debt limit impasse.
The controversial Title 42 policy which has allowed border agents to turn back migrants who cross the U.S.-Mexico border without considering their asylum claims expired with the COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11. The Defense Department is sending 1,500 troops to the U.S. southern border to help address an expected spike in migration. The troops would assist Customs and Border Protection officers with administrative tasks, freeing up CBP officers to handle the migration influx. Most Republicans strongly oppose ending Title 42. Among Democrats, Senators Sinema and Tillis have announced bipartisan legislation to effectively continue Title 42. House GOP leaders plan to bring to the floor this week a border security package to coincide with the end of Title 42. The measure includes bills already approved by the Homeland Security, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary committees. The House proposal would restrict asylum access for migrants traveling to the border, heighten penalties for immigration violations, restart border wall construction, and modernize surveillance technology. It would also limit federal funding for nonprofits that help migrants and require the government to negotiate agreements with other nations to return asylum-seekers to Mexico, among other immigration changes.
The WHO ended the global health emergency for mpox this week, saying that while the virus continues to spread internationally, steady progress has been made in controlling the outbreak. The decision, announced by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, came less than a week after the U.N. health agency announced the termination of the global health emergency for Covid-19.
A recent uptick in mpox diagnoses in Chicago, some of them in people vaccinated against the virus, has raised concerns about a possible increase in cases among gay and bisexual men during the summer. Public health experts expressed concern that, similar to other cases of infections that are transmitted through sexual contact, mpox cases could rise during the summer, especially as gay and bi men travel to festivals and other major LGBTQ events. The article can be found here.
An FDA advisory committee unanimously recommended the agency approve the nation’s first over-the-counter birth control pill. The panel concluded that the benefits outweighed the risks of making a hormonal contraceptive pill, sold under the brand name Opill and produced by the French company HRA Pharma, available without a prescription. If the FDA follows the advisory committee’s recommendation, Opill would become the first and only birth control pill to be available over the counter since oral contraceptives were introduced in the U.S. in 1960. A final decision is expected by early August.
Governor Cooper said that the proposed 12-week abortion ban in his state would largely put an end to abortion in North Carolina. The legislation, approved last week and sent to Cooper, would restrict abortion to within the first 12 weeks of pregnancy (down from 20 weeks) but also apply other restrictions as well.
A coalition of abortion rights advocates in Florida is set to push a ballot measure that would enshrine abortion protections into the state’s constitution, with the launch of a public campaign to get the issue on the Florida 2024 ballot expected next week. The coalition has already filed necessary paperwork with the state to begin collecting signatures and fundraising for the effort.
Nevada lawmakers passed a joint resolution that would codify reproductive rights, including already-existing abortion access up to 24 weeks, into the state constitution. State lawmakers must pass the resolution again in 2025 before it would go before voters as a ballot question in 2026. If passed, the resolution would provide the highest level of state protection not only for abortion rights, but also other reproductive access, including postpartum and prenatal care as well as birth control.
Republican lawmakers in Louisiana rejected legislation that would add exceptions in cases of rape and incest to one of the strictest abortion bans in the country.
South Carolina Republicans are pushing new abortion restrictions in a late attempt to curtail access after a near-total ban failed last month. A Senate bill that would ban abortion except in the earliest weeks of pregnancy is moving quickly through the South Carolina House in the first sign that Republican leaders may be close to restoring limits passed in 2021 but overturned by the state Supreme Court.
The US COVID-19 public health emergency expired on May 11, after more than three years in place, ushering in changes to reporting, access to testing and more. Free tests are still available from the government, but supplies may be limited, and private health insurers no longer need to pay for eight home tests per month. Vaccines are available as a preventive health service through private insurance and public programs, while data reporting requirements will expire, but flexibility for telemedicine remains largely in place.
President Biden revoked requirements that most international visitors to the US be vaccinated against COVID-19 as well as similar rules for federal employees and contractors. Biden’s orders took effect at 12:01 a.m. ET May 12 with the expiration of the U.S. COVID public health emergency. The Biden administration’s rules imposed in September 2021 requiring about 3.5 million federal employees and contractors to be vaccinated or face firing or disciplinary action have not been enforced for over a year after a series of court rulings.
Vermont’s Republican governor signed gender affirming care and abortion bills into law that are the first in the country to explicitly include protecting access to a medication widely used in abortions even if the FDA withdraws its approval of the pill, mifepristone. The bills protect providers from discipline for providing legally protected reproductive and gender affirming health care services.
Two transgender children, their parents and two health care providers filed a lawsuit Tuesday arguing that a Montana law that would ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth is unconstitutional. The ban on puberty blockers, hormone treatment and surgical procedures applies only to transgender youth being treated for gender dysphoria, but that same care can be provided to cisgender adolescents for any other purpose, according to the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Montana and Lambda Legal.
The FDA finalized new rules eliminating blanket restrictions on blood donations from LGBT men, responding to long-standing pressure from advocates, blood banks and public health groups. The new guidelines are instead focused on individual risk behaviors, rather than sexual orientation. The rules block anyone from donating blood if they have had new or multiple sexual partners and have also had anal sex in the previous three months. Anal sex carries a much higher risk of HIV transmission than vaginal sex. The regulations can be found here.