Both Chambers Are in Recess but Preparing for a Full Sprint upon Return
The Senate passed a continuing resolution (CR) by a vote 65–27 on February 17, 2022, after debates on two amendments related to vaccine mandates and one requiring a balanced federal budget. The CR extends federal funding through March 11, 2022. Appropriations Committee leadership announced on February 10 that a bipartisan framework for an Omnibus bill had been reached, but details are scant. Although the House and Senate are not in session this week, leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees and their respective staffs are hard at work trying to reach a final deal. Should any policy proposals, such as an extension of telehealth flexibilities, be added to the Omnibus legislation, they would have to be paid for, which poses challenges.
On February 15, President Biden signaled that he would make a $30 billion supplemental request for COVID-19 relief funds. Informal discussions between the Administration and senior legislators are ongoing. While a formal request hasn’t yet been made, we understand that the White House is seeking $18 billion for medical countermeasures such as antivirals and vaccines, $5 billion for testing, $3 billion to treat uninsured patients and $4 billion to prepare for future variants. On February 18, the Administration also told House and Senate appropriators that it needs at least $5 billion in global COVID-19 funds to meet immediate needs. The Administration proposed that the supplemental be attached to Omnibus legislation, but without a clear and formal budget request, that seems unlikely. While healthcare providers, restaurants, bars, gyms, entertainment venues and other stakeholders have continued to press for additional relief, there has not yet been confirmation that such provisions are on the table in Omnibus negotiations. We are looking for such signs this week. Some members of Congress remain skeptical about the need for further funding when previous funds are unobligated and as the omicron variant rapidly subsides. Others would like to see an Omnibus and supplemental funding bills on separate tracks, so as not to jeopardize ongoing bipartisan negotiations to fund the government.
Bottom line: Rest up—the next few weeks will be very busy.
Congress averted a government shutdown and set a new deadline of March 11 to pass a bipartisan Omnibus appropriations bill. Debbie Curtis, Rodney Whitlock, and guest host Amy Kelbick discuss how this process may unfold and what, if any, other health care priorities could be included.
Listen to “Is the Omnibus Happening?” on Spreaker.