Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
May 19, 2023
This Week in Congress
House and Senate
Both chambers were in session this week.
Lawmakers from both parties suggested negotiators made progress this week toward a bipartisan deal that would raise the $31.4 trillion debt limit. Negotiators are attempting to reach a framework by Sunday, when President Biden returns from a trip to the G-7 summit in Japan. Speaker McCarthy said he is hopeful that a deal could come as soon as this weekend. In a sign of progress, the two parties have begun to exchange offers. “We’ve made good progress this week, but the work continues,” said Senate Majority Leader Schumer, “No one will get everything they want.” If a deal is reached the House could vote next week. While the Senate is scheduled to be in recess next week, Majority Leader Schumer said the Senate would be prepared to reconvene with 24 hours’ notice to schedule a vote.
House Appropriations FY’24 Markups
Appropriators began marking annual spending bills this week. The markup for the Labor, Health and Human Services and Education bill, which contains funding for the CDC, has not been announced at this time. The draft bills and summaries can be found here.
The Senate Appropriations committee plans to start marking up appropriations bills in June.
Representative George Santos
This week the House voted to refer a resolution to the Ethics Committee that would expel Rep. Santos, who was indicted on 13 federal criminal charges, including wire fraud, money laundering, theft of public funds and making false statements to the House.
President Biden announced that he would nominate National Cancer Institute Director Monica Bertagnolli to fill the long-vacant director slot at the National Institutes of Health. The cancer surgeon has led NCI since last October and previously led Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s surgical oncology unit. If confirmed by the Senate, she would be the second woman to lead the agency.
Other Legislative Happenings from Around the Nation
The Debt Ceiling and STDs
This week at STD Engage, the annual conference of STD Directors, senior Biden administration officials and public health leaders warned that debt ceiling negotiations and a proposal to claw back unspent Covid-19 money would have an unintended consequence: increasing sexually-transmitted diseases. The potential cuts could be as much as $30 billion from state and local public health departments that are struggling to rebuild as Covid-19 wanes. “If they cut back that money, it’ll set us back 15 years,” said David Harvey, executive director of the National Coalition of STD Directors. “If that funding is taken away, instantly, overnight, we will lose our ability to have the boots-on-the-ground workforce to knock on doors, do outbreak investigations, navigate people through the health care system, and help people get tested and treated. It’s really scary.” “There’s no doubt” the cuts would hurt efforts to “rebuild our public health infrastructure,” said Leandro Mena, Director of the CDC’s Division of STD Prevention, “If we don’t have a robust workforce ready, who’s going to be there when we have our next outbreak?”
The CDC is warning that the US could see an mpox redux. And there may be new challenges ahead: A recent cluster of cases among fully vaccinated men in Chicago is raising questions about how long vaccine protection lasts. “Spring and summer season in 2023 could lead to a resurgence of mpox as people gather for festivals and other events,” the CDC stated. Though vaccine protection may not be 100%, the CDC says it remains one of the most important prevention measures people can take.
The CDC is urging people at high risk of mpox to get two doses of the Jynneos vaccine, based on new evidence from a U.S. study showing that the regimen is more effective at preventing infection than one shot. The study offered some of the first evidence on the efficacy of the Jynneos vaccine, which was deployed last year during a global outbreak of mpox.
Abortion Laws and Medical Students
Medical students say strict abortion laws are driving them away from pursuing careers as doctors in states where the procedure is banned. The finding comes from a survey of third- and fourth-year medical students, conducted last year after the June 2022 Supreme Court overturned Roe V. Wade.
Michigan companies will be prohibited from firing or otherwise retaliating against workers for receiving an abortion under a bill signed by Democratic Gov. Whitmer that amends the state’s civil rights law. Michigan’s Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act had previously only protected individuals against employment discrimination if the abortion was to “save the life of the mother.” The new legislation will extend those protections to anyone who terminates a pregnancy, regardless of the reason.
A Montana judge has temporarily blocked the state from enforcing a new ban on the type of abortion most commonly used after 15 weeks of gestation until he can hear arguments on the law next week. District Court Judge Menahan issued a temporary restraining order against a law that bans the use of dilation and evacuation abortions. Republican Gov. Gianforte signed the bill into law this week and it took immediate effect.
A three-judge panel, appointed by then-President Trump, and a judge appointed by then-President George W. Bush, appeared to support claims that the conscience and religious rights of anti-abortion physicians are harmed by the FDA’s nearly 23-year-old approval of mifepristone.
Rhode Island Gov. McKee (D) signed into law a bill that would let state funds pay for health insurance coverage for state employees and Medicaid recipients that includes abortions.
South Carolina became the latest state to move toward a near total abortion ban. Access would be almost entirely banned after about six weeks of pregnancy under the bill that now must pass the state Senate, which previously rejected a proposal to nearly outlaw abortions but could give final passage to the new legislation next week.
Gender-Affirming Care for Minors
Lawmakers in Louisiana passed a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care to minors, advancing the legislation to the Senate for further debate. The bill would prohibit doctors from performing “gender transition procedures” such as hormone treatments, gender reassignment surgery or puberty-blocking drugs, on anyone under the age of 18 who is seeking treatment to “alter” their sex assigned at birth. The measure also establishes penalties for health professionals who provide such care.
Missouri officials terminated an emergency rule proposed by the Republican attorney general that would have placed limits on transgender care for minors and some adults. The move was announced without explanation on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website, which said: “This emergency rule terminated effective May 16, 2023.”