Following the election of Sens. Ossoff and Warnock (D-GA) in early January, you probably read headlines that the Democrats had retaken the Senate. While not false, those headlines omitted a small but significant nuance – a wonky Senate formality known as an “organizing resolution” – that would be a final hurdle on the Democrats’ path to reclaiming the Senate majority.
The organizing resolution outlines out how each Senate will set up committees, budgets and other key operating procedures. After Sens. Ossoff and Warnock were sworn in on January 20th, Democrats controlled the Senate floor, but Republicans maintained control of Senate committees because the organizing resolution from the 116thCongress was still in effect. This resulted in some committees operating without a chairperson, since the Senators who chaired these committees in the 116th Congress had retired.
After two weeks of negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Minority Leader McConnell (R-Ky.), the Senate finally passed an organizing resolution on Wednesday to govern the 117th (current) Congress.
Going big, possibly bipartisan, on COVID relief
On Tuesday President Biden prodded Senate Democrats to “go big” and advance legislation on a COIVD-19 relief bill. Biden’s direction came after he rejected a $618 billion proposal from ten Republican Senators, which was substantially smaller than the $1.9 billion figure the president has floated. (The Hill, Associated Press – Washington Bureau) While House Democrats started the legislative process that would allow them to advance a COVID-19 relief bill without the threat of a Republican filibuster, the door on bipartisanship has not yet closed. (Roll Call) On Thursday, a bipartisan group of 16 senators drafted a non-binding amendment that calls for the next round of direct payments to target the neediest Americans. (The Hill)
Schools, seniors and the squeeze on vaccines
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cited data from her agency on Wednesday to make the case that vaccinating teachers is not required to safely reopen schools as long as other precautions are followed. (The Hill) Dr. Walkensky’s remarks were made during a week that saw several outlets report that teachers are being pushed further back in line for COVID-19 vaccines as many states prioritize elderly populations. (Axios, Roll Call). Setting aside vaccinations, there are concerns from some White House political advisors that President Biden may not be able to fulfill his goal of resuming in-person instruction during the first 100 days of his presidency. (Axios)
Drug pricing proposal delayed
The Biden administration has delayed the implementation of a signature Trump administration proposal that would have prevented pharmaceutical companies from negotiating rebates on prescription drug prices with pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs). PhRMA and drug makers were in favor of the policy, and were prepared to work with the government to implement the rule. However, PBMs and their trade association, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, were vigorously opposed to the rule and filed a lawsuit to kill the policy. (STAT)
Updates on team Biden
STAT published a detailed profile of Eric Lander, a key figure in the Human Genome Project and founding director of the Broad Institute who President Biden tapped as the White House science advisor. As detailed by STAT’s Lev Facher, Lander will advise the president on climate change, COVID-19, public confidence in science, and other pressing issues. Meanwhile, the rumor mill was a-swirling with hints that Chiquita Brooks-LaSure (a longtime Democratic health policy expert) and North Carolina health secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen have emerged as frontrunners to helm the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. (POLITICO)
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