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This One’s (Not) for the Byrds

Hot Topics | March 5th, 2021

You may have seen the Byrd Rule mentioned in connection with the COVID-19 relief package working its way through Congress. The Byrd Rule has come into play since the relief package is tied to a budget resolution that is being legislated using reconciliation, a rule created by Congress in 1974 that allows the Senate to avert a filibuster and pass a budget resolution with a simple majority. Named for former Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va), the rule limits what can be included in reconciliation legislation in the Upper Chamber by outlining six criteria that can be used to identify “extraneous” provisions. The Senate Parliamentarian, an unelected official, ultimately has the power to decide what provisions are extraneous or not. Notably, the Senate Parliamentarian recently ruled that Democrats’ proposal to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour as part of the COVID-19 legislation did not pass the Byrd test.

Much more to follow on COVID-19 relief news in this week’s headlines:

COVID-19 relief legislation: what’s in and what’s out

  • In (as of 3/5):
    • Funds to subsidize health insurance for unemployed workers through COBRA. (Roll Call)
    • $400 per week in unemployment benefits for workers. (POLITICO)
    • A 29% increase in spending on Obamacare subsidies, which is projected to boost enrollment by about 15%. (The Washington Post)
    • $8.5 billion to help rural healthcare providers pay for the cost of COVID-19 care. (STAT)
  • Out (as of 3/5): Stimulus payments for Americans who earn more than $80,000 ($160,000 for couples). (POLITICOThe Hill)
  • TBD:
    • President Biden has urged Democrats to stay unified as the legislation from the House meanders through the Senate. Time will tell how unified the caucus remains as moderates continue to push for more targeted relief. (The Hill)
    • The provisions of the legislation are still subject to change as the bill works its way through the Senate.

An EUA hat trick

  • Following a thumbs up from an independent Advisory Committee, the FDA granted the Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) COVID-19 vaccine an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) on Saturday. (FDA) The EUA was quickly followed by a unanimous endorsement from a CDC vaccine advisory panel on Sunday. (The Washington Post)
    • Read more: How do the three vaccines (Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna, Janssen) being administered under EUA compare? It’s complicated. Axios breaks down the differences, but here’s Dr. Anthony Fauci’s hot take: “We have three highly efficacious vaccines that are safe and efficacious. That’s the bottom line.” (The Hill)

You get a shot and you get a shot…

  • This week President Biden announced the United States would have enough COVID-19 vaccine stock to vaccinate all adults by the end of May (though getting shots into arms will take longer). The announcement came on the cusp of the FDA granting an EUA to the Janssen COVID-19 vaccine, as well as an agreement that will see Merck & Co. produce the Janssen vaccine. (The HillSTATAxios)

Becerra’s bruising confirmation battle

  • President Biden’s Health and Human Services Secretary Nominee Xavier Becerra narrowly advanced out of his Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) committee on a deadlocked 14-14 vote. Becerra will now go before the full Senate for a confirmation vote, where he is expected to be confirmed by the Democratic majority. However, Senate Republicans are calling the deadlocked committee vote a victory, seeking to ratchet up the pressure on Democrats from swing states who are up for reelection in 2022. (POLITICOThe Hill)
    • Read more: If confirmed, Becerra said he would conduct a “thorough review” of executive mechanisms that could be used to lower drug prices. (The Hill)

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