What Happened to COVID-19 Funding?
Last week, the House and Senate passed a $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill (HR 2741) to fund the government through September 30, 2022. The package ultimately omitted the proposed $15.6 billion for COVID-19 relief funding because Members of Congress objected to the pay-for that was negotiated to cover half of the bill’s expense.
Negotiators had agreed that $7 billion of unused state and local government COVID-19 aid would finance half of the new relief funding, with the remainder unfunded. Members who represent states that would lose money pushed back on this pay-for structure, however. Democratic leaders in the House initially hoped to quickly take up and pass a standalone COVID-19 relief funding bill on Friday, but that proposal was sidelined with an agreement that it would be considered early this week. A relief funding bill is not on the House agenda this week, however, and uncertainty remains regarding this potential bill’s structure, when it might be taken up and how it would be paid for. Any relief bill that is not at least partially paid for is unlikely to pass in the Senate.
Additionally, Congress will hold healthcare-related mark-ups and legislative hearings this week. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee will hold a mark-up of the Prepare for and Respond to Existing Viruses, Emerging New Threats, and Pandemics Act. This comprehensive package aims to improve federal and state readiness and preparedness to combat the COVID-19 pandemic and future pandemics. In the House, the Energy and Commerce Committee will hold a legislative hearing on several bills focused on improving the future of medicine, including HR 6000 (the Cures 2.0 Act) and HR 5585 (the Advanced Research Project Agency–Health Act). Bipartisan and bicameral movement on these policies highlights potential future vehicles for healthcare legislation. As the legislative window in this election year rapidly closes, however, ability to achieve significant policy action is limited.
Also this week, the Senate Finance Committee will hold a hearing on prescription drug pricing. This hearing will be far less bipartisan than those previously mentioned and is part of an effort to respond to Senator Manchin’s recent offer on a scaled-back version of the Build Back Better Act. Manchin also pushed for regular order through the Senate on those policies. Democrats would need to be united in order for prescription drug pricing reform to move forward in the Senate, so the level of agreement expressed at this hearing will be telling.
House and Senate committees are working independently on legislative items that are connected in the health space. Debbie Curtis and Rodney Whitlock break down how preventing future pandemics and improving the nation’s healthcare system have become bipartisan work.