This Week’s Dose
Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) nominee Xavier Becerra testified in front of two Senate Committees while the House continued to advance the coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package.
House Democrats are Moving COVID-19 Relief Legislation. On Monday, the House Budget Committee met to compile the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, that Democrats are preparing to pass through reconciliation. The bill includes public health funding to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, Medicaid policy changes, extends the unemployment insurance benefits, and provides a direct $1,400 stimulus payments to certain Americans. The House Committee on Rules published new text on Thursday evening, along with 216 amendments. The full House is expected to approve the package today, and then send it on to the Senate. Senate rules require reconciliation bills to only include provisions that directly impact federal spending. Senate Republicans are expected to object to provisions they view as inconsistent with that rule. Thursday evening the parliamentarian ruled that the provision to increase the federal minimum wage does not meet reconciliation rules, and ultimately it will not be included in the reconciliation final bill. However, this does not preclude Democrats from including a tax penalty on employers that do not meet minimum wage requirements or working on a bipartisan basis with Republicans on a minimum wage increase through another legislative vehicle. Additionally, there could still be changes to the bill once it moves to the Senate. Stakeholders are also planning for future legislation later this year to address their priorities.
Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Testified in Front of Two Senate Committees. Xavier Becerra, President Biden’s nominee to lead the US Department of Health and Human Services had two Senate committee confirmation hearings this week. The Senate Finance Committee and Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee hearings focused on his approach to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic while California’s Attorney General, including distributing and administering vaccines. Senate Republicans questioned his healthcare experience, and noted the positions he took as Attorney General on the Affordable Care Act and abortion. Despite the partisan environment, the hearings were largely without fanfare or new arguments that would put Becerra’s nomination in jeopardy. The Senate Finance Committee could vote on his nomination as early as next week, sending it to the full Senate for a vote thereafter.
President Biden Signs an Executive Order on the United States Supply Chain. The goal of the Executive Order (EO) is to help create more resilient and secure supply chains for critical and essential goods, which became key issues during the pandemic when there were shortages of personal protective equipment and ventilators. The EO directs an immediate 100-day review across federal agencies to address vulnerabilities and requires the Secretary of HHS to submit reports to the President that identifies the risks in the supply chain for pharmaceuticals and active pharmaceutical ingredients along with policy recommendations to address these risks.). Following the submission of the reports, the President’s Assistant for National Security Affairs and Assistant for Economic Policy must make recommendations on steps to improve supply chains.
President Biden Extends the National Emergency Related to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The national emergency was initially declared on March 13, 2020, and began on March 1, 2020. The national emergency is declared under the Stafford Act and permits the federal government to deploy multiple agencies to respond to the pandemic and expires after a year of declaration, unless rescinded by the president. This is in comparison with the declared public health emergency which provides flexibilities to the Department of Health and Human Services to redistribute funds and personnel to respond to the pandemic and a declared public health emergency (PHE) must be reissued every 90 days. Some of these flexibilities would continue to exist even if the national emergency declaration ended, as long as the PHE remained in effect.
- The Department of Justice asked the Supreme Court to cancel a hearing next month on an appeal over Medicaid work requirement programs in Arkansas and New Hampshire.
- The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies (LHHS) held a hearing entitled “Ready or Not: U.S. Public Health Infrastructure” to discuss the country’s public health infrastructure, its strengths and weaknesses, and how COVID-19 has impacted the system.
- The Senate HELP Committee held a nomination hearing for Vivek Murthy to serve as Medical Director in the Regular Corps of the Public Health Service and Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, and Rachel Levine to serve as Assistant Secretary of HHS.
- The COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force held a virtual meeting today discuss mitigating the health inequities caused or exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and for preventing such inequities in the future.
Next Week’s Diagnosis
The Senate will start to take action on the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021.
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