Here's the scoop on what's happening this week in Congress
September 9, 2022
This Week in Congress
House and Senate
The Senate is back in session this week. The House returns on September 13.
With 64 days left before the midterm elections, one of the “must pass” bills that needs to be enacted before the fiscal year ends on September 30 is the continuing resolution (CR). This stop gap funding measure will keep Federal agencies funded, at the FY’22 rate beyond September 30, when the current bills expire. It is expected that the CR will likely extend programs through December 16.
This week, in preparation for the CR, the White House sent to Congress a list of “anomalies,” which adjusts spending in certain accounts to avoid technical or administrative problems because of current rate funding. The list also included requests for an additional $47 billion in emergency funding for Ukraine ($13.7 billion), Covid-19 preparedness ($22.4 billion), monkeypox ($4.5) and natural disasters ($6.5 billion).
The list of anomalies and emergency funding requests can be found here
Other Legislation and Happenings Around the Nation
The $4.5 billion funding requested by the Administration for monkeypox includes the following:
$1.6 For vaccine and therapeutic procurement, expanding domestic vaccine manufacturing capacity, and related operations;
$0.9 To support public health activities including testing capacity, vaccine administration, and surveillance and epidemiology studies, and to provide support to states, localities, and STI clinics on the front lines;
$1.2 To provide testing, treatment, and vaccination services, including through Ryan White clinics and community health centers; and
$0.2 For high-priority research and development, including to test vaccine effectiveness in special populations and develop rapid tests.
Global Health (USAID):
$0.6 To support vaccine readiness, diagnostics, treatments, and country preparedness and response, including community outreach and risk communication.
Senate Republican’s Oppose Biden Administration Monkeypox and COVID Request
Senate Republicans are signaling early resistance to attaching billions of dollars for Covid and monkeypox aid in the CR, a troublesome sign for a White House that says vaccine money is rapidly running out. This week, several GOP senators said they were skeptical of the Biden administration’s $22.4 billion request for Covid money, as well as its $4.5 billion request for combating monkeypox, citing unspent money and frustration with what they view as Democrats’ previous spending largesse. Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.), said that generally speaking there’s “zero interest in Covid or monkeypox” funding among Senate Republicans and predicted “this process will get really messy the more things they try to drop in.”
HELP Committee Hearing
The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension’s Committee will hold a hearing on COVID-19 and monkeypox with key federal health agencies on September 14. Witness will include: Dr. Walensky, Director, CDC; Dr. Fauci, Director, NIAID; Dr. Califf, Commissioner, FDA; and Ms. O’Connell, Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. Democrats and the White House have argued that the Covid and monkeypox money is necessary for vaccine distribution and combating future surges. The administration has stopped sending free at-home test kits and indicated that it will need to stop paying for vaccines in the near future. The administration expects to run out of federal funding for vaccine purchases and distribution as early as January.
Administration to Increase Delivery Locations for Monkeypox Vaccines and Treatment
HHS will increase the number of delivery locations that can accept shipments of vaccines and treatment for monkeypox through the Strategic National Stockpile, thanks to a partnership with a private company. The Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR) has awarded a $20 million contract to allow the Strategic National Stockpile to expand direct distribution and increase the number of weekly shipments. The contract will allow for shipments of frozen JYNNEOS vaccine and ambient temperature shipments of the treatment tecovirimat to up to 2,500 locations per week. Before the new contract, HHS said, shipments could be sent only to about five locations in each state or territory. The products and their delivery are being paid for by the federal government. “Responding to the monkeypox outbreak requires close collaboration between the federal government, states, tribes, and localities,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said “With today’s action, we ensure our local partners receive these critical tools more easily and quickly.”
Is Monkeypox an STD?
A September 2, 2022, position statement on monkeypox as a sexually transmitted disease, written by several former CDC health officials and other health professionals, concluded that “monkeypox is a sexually transmitted disease. Labeling it as such will help focus our public health interventions, such as vaccinations, testing, and treatment. Moreover, understanding the primary mode of transmission can help facilitate focused awareness and education programs, as well as allow for behavioral modifications to reduce exposures, which in turn may augment outbreak control efforts and prove to be cost effective. We recommend that governments and other policy-making bodies define monkeypox as a sexually transmitted infection for monkeypox.” The position paper can be found here
Monkeypox Cases Dropping but Racial Disparities Growing
While cases in white men have dropped in recent weeks, Black people are making up a growing percentage of infections — nearly 38% during the final week of August, according to the latest data available. In the early weeks of the monkeypox outbreak, Black people made up less than a quarter of reported cases. Latinos are also disproportionately infected, making up roughly a third of infections. That trend means that public health messaging and vaccines are not effectively reaching those communities. The article can be found here
On COVID-19: On September 1, the CDC recommended that anyone age 12 or over get a Covid-19 booster shot this fall. The new formula targets the Omicron subvariants dominating U.S. infections. The CDC followed the recommendation by the FDA that authorized Covid booster shots from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna.
VA to Offer Abortion Care
Last week the Department of Veterans Affairs said it plans to offer abortion counseling and some abortions for pregnant veterans and VA beneficiaries. The VA submitted an interim rule that would enable it to provide abortions when a veteran’s or beneficiary’s life or health is in peril or in cases of rape or incest. It would also cover dependents under the agency’s Civilian Health and Medical Program. The move comes after 25 senators in the Democratic caucus pushed the agency to make the regulatory changes. As it stands, Congress’ Hyde Amendment restricts federal funding of abortions for active military members, and a 1992 law prohibits abortion care for military veterans or retirees.