Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
May 26, 2023
This Week in Congress
The House was in session this week.
The Senate was in pro forma session.
Negotiators stated that there are still significant differences between the White House and Congressional leaders over spending levels and how long spending caps should remain in place. House Financial Services Chair McHenry, R-N.C., one of the Speakers negotiators, stated “I’m not a pessimist at the moment. The work that we’re doing centers on a shorter and shorter range of issues.” He declined to give a timeline for a deal, however, but stated that reaching agreement by this weekend “looks very difficult.” Members left town Thursday for the Memorial Day recess, though GOP leaders cautioned them to be ready to return to Washington within 24 hours if a deal is reached. With the June 1 deadline approaching and the House rule of providing legislation 72 hours for members to review legislative text prior to a vote, the Senate will be in a take it or leave it situation to make the June 1 deadline. Rumor has it that the deal would impose caps on discretionary spending for two years, though those caps would apply differently to spending on Defense versus nondefense programs. Spending on the military would grow next year, as would spending on some veterans’ care. The rest of nondefense discretionary spending would fall slightly or stay at the FY’23 levels and be capped at 1 percent growth in FY’25. A rollback of $10 billion of the $80 billion Congress approved last year for the I.R.S. A possible rescission of COVID-19 funds, which could affect the remaining DIS funding. Still being discussed is what work requirements to impose for social safety net programs and a permitting overhaul for domestic energy and gas projects.
The White House released a fact sheet on the impact of the Republican cuts to discretionary spending. The fact sheet can be found here.
This week the House Appropriations Committee postponed markups of the Military Construction-VA, Legislative Branch, Homeland Security, and Agriculture appropriations bills, until the negotiators reach an agreement on the debt limit agreement and the total discretionary spending limits for FY’24. The draft House bills, reports and summaries that are currently available can be found here.
This week, the House, by a vote of 218-203, approved legislation to block President Biden’s student loan relief program. Republicans said the President’s proposal would add billions to the federal debt while doing nothing to address the rising cost of college. They also argued Biden’s plan is inherently unfair to those who already paid off their loans or did not attend college. Biden announced the student loan relief program last August. The plan would have cancelled up to $10,000 in debt for most students, and up to $20,000 for those who received a Pell Grant but has been put on hold due to court challenges. The bill now goes to the Senate, however what action the Senate will take is unclear. But the White House said President Biden would veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
Today the House is expected to vote on legislation that would permanently classify fentanyl-like drugs as a Schedule I controlled substance. That classification means the drugs have no recognized medical use and a high potential for abuse. The fentanyl-like substances have only minor differences in their chemical makeup compared to that of fentanyl. The classification — now temporarily in place for the drugs through 2024 — would make it unlawful to manufacture, distribute, import, or export such substances. The Biden administration supports the bill. But some Democrats criticize the measure over concerns that it would increase incarceration.
Other Legislative Happenings from Around the Nation
At-Home Test For Five Common STIs, including Syphilis & HIV
Simple HealthKit, a diagnostics company in Fremont, CA. has launched an at-home sexual health kit for the five common STIs in the U.S.: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, Trichomoniasis, HIV & Syphilis. The test is simple to use, easily available, affordable, and includes a telehealth visit and aftercare for those who test positive for one or more conditions. Tests are processed at CLIA-certified labs within 24 hours of receipt. The article can be found here
Decline in HIV Prevalence
Estimated annual new HIV infections were 12% lower in 2021 compared to 2017—dropping from about 36,500 infections to about 32,100—according to new CDC data. The decline was driven by a 34% decrease in new infections among 13- to 24-year-olds, mostly among gay and bisexual males. According to CDC’s latest estimates, annual HIV infections dropped from 9,300 in 2017 to 6,100 in 2021 among 13- to 24-year-olds. Declines among young gay and bisexual males (who account for roughly 80% of new infections in this age group) drove the trend, falling from an estimated 7,400 infections to about 4,900 during the timeframe. The article can be found here
A cluster of mpox cases in the Chicago area continues to raise concerns of a resurgence this summer. The U.S. response to the mpox outbreak in 2022 was heralded as a public health success. By the beginning of this year, enough progress had been made that the White House allowed the public health emergency to expire. Officials from the CDC said last week, however, there is a “substantial risk” of a resurgence this summer. This warning came days after the World Health Organization declared mpox to no longer be a global health emergency. A worry is that investigators have found more than half of those infected in the Chicago cluster had received some degree of vaccination. The article can be found here
Surgeon General’s Warning
The US Surgeon General warned that social media’s “profound risk of harm” to young people included a significant qualification. For some of them, the warning said, social media can be beneficial to health in important ways. For one group in particular — the growing share of young people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer — social media can be a lifeline, researchers and teenagers say. Especially for those growing up in unwelcoming families or communities, social media often provides a sense of identity and belonging at a crucial age, much earlier than for many L.G.B.T.Q. people in previous generations.
Florida Governor DeSantis said the federal and state governments both have a role to play in deciding abortion policy in the aftermath of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade. DeSantis said that he is concerned about a Democratic administration and Congress “trying to nationalize” abortion throughout the country. “Dobbs returned the issue to the elected representatives of the people, and so I think that there’s a role for both the federal [government] and states,” he said.
An Indiana board is set to hear allegations that an Indianapolis doctor should face disciplinary action after she spoke publicly about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape victim from neighboring Ohio. The Medical Licensing Board’s hearing comes after Indiana’s Republican attorney general accused Dr. Caitlin Bernard of violating state law by not reporting the girl’s child abuse to Indiana authorities. She’s also accused of breaking federal patient privacy laws by telling a newspaper reporter about the girl’s treatment.
Gov. Roy Cooper slammed Republicans in the general assembly for overturning his veto of their newly restrictive 12-week abortion law and suggested the GOP could end up paying for it at the ballot box in 2024. “It’s amazing how they’ve ignored the will of the people here. Most North Carolinians do not want right-wing politicians in the exam room with women and their doctors. But Republicans are controlled by their right wing,” the Democratic governor stated.
The Republican author of a bill that would overhaul the state’s abortion law says a Senate leader is “squashing debate” on a bill she and a group of GOP lawmakers introduced this spring that would allow doctors to provide abortions to victims of rape and incest — a policy change most Wisconsin residents support.
Transgender Health Bills
Since January, state legislators have introduced more than 200 bills in at least 17 states that seek to limit transgender rights, whether it is access to gender-affirming care, what children can learn about transgender identity in schools or whether trans girls can play sports. An Associated Press analysis found that often those bills sprang not from grassroots or constituent demand, but from a handful of conservative interest groups. Many of the proposals, as introduced or passed, are identical or very similar. Those ready-made bills have been used in statehouses for decades, often with criticisms of carpetbagging by out-of-state interests. In the case of restrictions on gender-affirming care for youths, they allow a handful of far-right groups to spread a false narrative based on distorted science, critics say.
The Republican-controlled Louisiana legislative committee voted to a kill a bill that would have banned gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. Proponents of Louisiana’s failed bill, which would have prohibited hormone treatments, gender-affirming surgery or puberty-blocking drugs for any transgender minor, say they fear that the state could draw minors from surrounding states — where there are bans — seeking gender-affirming health care. Those in Louisiana’s LGBTQ+ community say gender-affirming care in the state is not as easily accessible as conservatives make it seem.
Texas Attorney General Paxton announced that he will investigate Texas Children’s Hospital to find out whether it is “unlawfully” providing gender transition care. The announcement comes after Paxton said he would investigate Dell Children’s Medical Center in Austin for the same reason. Doctors who treated transgender adolescents at Dell Children’s left the hospital the following week, and patients and their families began hearing that their appointments were canceled.
COVID Pill Paxlovid Gains Full FDA Approval
Pfizer received full approval for its COVID-19 pill Paxlovid that’s been the go-to treatment against the coronavirus. The drug has been provided by the FDA under emergency use since late 2021. The FDA granted full approval for adults with COVID-19 who face high risks of severe disease, which can lead to hospitalization or death. That group typically includes older adults and those with common medical conditions like diabetes, asthma, and obesity.