Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
NCSD Policy Staff
May 13, 2022
The Senate will have to wait the week of May 16 to pass the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill. Democratic and Republican leaders hoped to clear the bill last evening with enough time to head off a lapse in U.S. weapons shipments to Eastern Europe that’s expected next week. But Senator Rand Paul (R- KY) objected to bringing up the bill unless he could offer his amendment to create a special inspector general to oversee Ukraine spending. The supplemental bill passed the House earlier this week.
House Democrats are taking the lead on negotiating the latest version of a COVID-19 funding package. But it’s not yet clear if the bill will be a bipartisan/bicameral agreement or a Democrat-only version that would start at President Biden’s original $22.5 billion request and possibly go higher. The administration’s request was made months ago and was only intended to be an assessment of immediate needs for vaccines, therapeutics, testing, and other supplies, both domestically and internationally. But needs have changed since that request was made. The Senate will need 60 votes to pass a supplemental bill, but Republicans are hesitant to approve any new pandemic funding, particularly if it would add to the deficit, so the price tag and fate of a pandemic aid bill is unclear.
Women’s Health Protection Act: This week the Senate failed to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act which would have codified Roe v. Wade. The legislation would also have banned states from enacting restrictions on the abortion procedure deemed “medically unnecessary,” like mandatory waiting periods and TRAP laws (targeted restrictions on abortion providers) which impose requirements on abortion providers and women’s health centers that are intended to make it more difficult for women to access abortion. The procedural vote failed on a 49-51 vote. Sixty votes were needed to move to the bill. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) joined every Republican in voting against the motion to debate the bill.
Reproductive Choice Act
Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who are among the last remaining Republicans in Congress who support abortion rights, have their own narrower bill, the Reproductive Choice Act, which would codify the Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey decisions. But Democrats have dismissed their effort as insufficient and aren’t planning to bring it up for a vote. Senator Collins stated that the Democratic bill “supersedes all federal and state laws including the Religious Freedom Restoration Act” and would lead to medical providers who oppose abortion being compelled to perform them. Democrats vehemently disputed this claim. A Democratic aide stated “No one would be required to provide an abortion against their will under the Democratic bill, in violation of their religious or moral beliefs. Anyone who claims otherwise is misreading the bill. The bill does not place any affirmative requirement on any health care provider to provide an abortion if they don’t want to.” Asked about this argument, Collins stated that Democrats “must have misread their bill.”
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
STD Protection for Oral Sex
The FDA has approved underwear to protect against STIs during oral sex. The product is made of latex and forms a seal on the inside of the thigh to contain fluids. Clinical trials of the product were not needed for the FDA’s approval, but the agency did require documentation about thickness, elasticity, strength, and other measures, as it does with condoms. In the past year, the FDA has also given approval to two new dental dams, which also provide protection during oral sex.
Alabama Transgender Law
A new state law that took effect on May 8, 2022, makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for doctors to prescribe puberty blockers and hormones to transgender people under age 19. The legislation is part of a surge of bills introduced in Republican-controlled states that focus on LGBTQ youth. Legislation has been introduced to limit discussion of gender and sexual identity issues for younger school children and to prohibit kids from using school restrooms or playing on sports teams that don’t align with their sex at birth. Four Alabama families with transgender children have filed a lawsuit challenging the new state law as unconstitutional. The U.S. Department of Justice has joined the suit. A federal judge heard evidence this week on a request to block the state from enforcing the statute while the legal challenge goes forward. More than 20 medical and mental health organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, have also urged the judge to block the law. A decision is expected sometime this week.
The FDA in the coming days will lay out its plans to increase the supply of infant formula by allowing formula made in other countries to be imported into the US. President Biden spoke this week with formula manufacturers, including Reckitt Benckiser Group PLC and Gerber Products Co. and retailers including Walmart Inc and Target Corp, and announced new actions intended to increase supply. The administration is asking more states to relax rules on sizes and types of formulas eligible for government benefits, allowing parents to use subsidies for whatever products are in stock.
Deaths from COVID-19 are on the rise again because of the Omicron variants. The U.S. averaged about 365 daily deaths, up 7% from about 342 two weeks ago. The increase in deaths comes after several weeks of declines.
Vaccines for Kids
Moderna’s coronavirus vaccine elicits a strong immune response in children aged 6 to 11, researchers reported. This week, Moderna requested authorization from the FDA for the vaccine’s use in this age group.
Even as top U.S. health officials say it’s time America learns to live with the coronavirus, a chorus of leading researchers say faulty messaging on booster shots has left millions of older people at serious risk. Approximately 1 in 3 Americans age 65 and older who completed their initial vaccinations still have not received a first booster shot. The numbers have dismayed researchers, who note this age group continues to be at the highest risk for serious illness and death from covid-19.
Testing for COVID-19 has plummeted across the globe, making it much tougher for scientists to track the course of the pandemic and spot new, worrisome viral mutants as they emerge and spread. Experts say testing has dropped by 70% to 90% worldwide from the first to the second quarter of this year — the opposite of what they say should be happening with new omicron variants on the rise in places such as the United States and South Africa.