HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: Scant Baby Formula Spurs Attention on Hill

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Democrats are scrambling to address a shortage of baby formula, as Republicans add it to their election-year criticisms of the Biden administration.

Top House Democrats discussed the matter in closed-door meetings Wednesday morning. Hours later, Chair Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) announced the Energy and Commerce Committee’s oversight panel will hold a hearing on it on May 25, and Pallone said he’ll also meet with the Food and Drug Administration “to try to determine what they can do better.”

“We’re looking to see if we need to have legislation, have a hearing, and see what can be done to increase the amount of formula available,” he told reporters.

The scant supplies of infant formula is a result of supply chain backlogs and a recall of several powdered infant formulas from Abbott Laboratories. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) called the shortage of formula “a real problem and we’re hearing from a lot of people on this.”

Hoyer said he spoke to Pallone and several other House leaders on the issue, including Appropriations Chair Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Oversight and Reform Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.). “I expect all of them to be looking at, what’s the deal here with baby formula?” Hoyer told reporters Wednesday. “Why is there such a shortage? What happened? What did the FDA do or not do?”

A list of witnesses for the Energy and Commerce hearing hasn’t been announced yet, but a committee spokesperson said the hearing will only be productive if lawmakers heard directly from the FDA and Abbott. The Biden administration has also made formula availability a “top priority,” said soon-to-be Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre. “This is an urgent issue that the FDA, as you all know, and the White House is working 24/7 to address,” she said. Read more from Emily Wilkins and Zach C. Cohen.

Also Happening on the Hill

Medicare for All to Get Senate Look: The Senate Budget Committee today will hold hearing on Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) proposal to establish a single-payer health system in the US, replace private insurance with an overarching public health insurance coverage program. Sanders, chairman of the panel, rose to national prominence in 2016 running for the Democratic presidential nomination partly on the promise to enact his Medicare for All legislation, but the political realities since then have shifted attention away from the bill, Alex Ruoff reports.

Thursday’s hearing is slated to focus on the financial benefits of a single payer health system to Americans. Abdul El-Sayed, a progressive activist who wrote a book about Medicare-for-All’s benefits; Adam Gaffney, a critical care physician and president of Physicians for a National Health Program; and Bonnie Castillo, executive director of the country’s largest nurses’ union, will testify. Phillip Swagel, director of the Congressional Budget Office, will also testify.

The hearing will be the third this Congress on universal health coverage, the other two having been held in the House. That’s a far cry from the last session of Congress, when all three major committees with jurisdiction and other panels held hearings on the issue in the House. Supporters of Medicare for All claim that congressional hearings help bring the idea closer to passage.

Other Hearings Today:

  • The House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee plans a hearing on “maximizing” the well-being of elderly people. Elder Justice Coalition Director Robert Blancato and Senior Citizens Inc. CEO Patricia Lyons are among those set to testify.
  • The House Homeland Security Border Security Subcommittee plans a hearing examining the Homeland Security Department’s effort to combat the national opioid epidemic.
  • The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to mark up a bipartisan measure (S. 3846) to reauthorize the Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Program that provides grants for mental health courts, crisis intervention teams and other programs to help law enforcement assist those with mental illness.
  • The House Veterans’ Affairs Health Committee plans a hearing on improving health care delivery at Veterans Affairs facilities. Top officials from the Veterans Affairs Department are set to appear.
  • Follow BGOV’s nomination and vote tracker here, and click here for a complete list of this week’s hearings and markups.

Nominations: The Senate voted 51-50 Wednesday to confirm Alvaro M. Bedoya’s nomination to the FTC, breaking a partisan deadlock at the agency, Andrea Vittorio reports.

Abortion Rights Bill Blocked in Senate: Senate Democrats were blocked in their push to enshrine abortion rights in federal law in a vote that highlighted both the deep divisions on the politically explosive issue and the party’s schism over ending the filibuster to achieve their goals. Every Senate Republican and one Democrat—Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—voted to keep legislation ensuring nationwide access to abortions from reaching the Senate floor, well below the 60 votes needed. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he aimed to put all chamber Republicans on the record. Laura Litvan has more.

  • But the bill’s failure doesn’t mean lawmakers are giving up ahead of the midterms in November that will determine control of both chambers of Congress. “There’s going to be a lot more work after this vote,” Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said. Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who Wednesday voted against the abortion measure, has sought wider support for her own abortion bill (S. 3713). “After today’s vote fails, I plan to continue working with my colleagues on legislation to maintain—not expand or restrict—the current legal framework,” she wrote. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

More Headlines:

Cures 2.0 to See Summer Action: The biomedical innovation legislation “Cures 2.0″ is likely to come up for a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee in the coming weeks, the bill’s Republican architect told Bloomberg Government. Cures 2.0 is a follow-up to the 2016 landmark law 21st Century Cures (Pub. L. 114-255) by Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.). It was aimed at accelerating research and bringing innovations to patients faster. Cures 2.0 would build upon that, partly by addressing the lasting impacts of Covid-19. Read more from Alex Ruoff and Jeannie Baumann.

FDA’s User Fee Package Advances to Full House Committee: The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Health voted 30-0 to advance a bill (H.R. 7667) reauthorizing the user fees that help finance the FDA, including policy proposals to improve the accelerated approval pathway and remove barriers to generic drug competition. “This package is an enormous legislative undertaking,” Subcommittee Chair Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) said, adding that the agreements will give the FDA billions of dollars over the next five years to help it recover from the pandemic. Celine Castronuovo has more.

  • The same panel separately advanced a bill (H.R. 5585) from Eshoo to set up a new biomedical innovation hub as an independent HHS agency amid an ongoing debate over where the entity should sit. If enacted, the bill would conflict with efforts that are already underway to establish ARPA-H inside the National Institutes of Health, based on a spending authority the HHS received in the 2022 omnibus, Jeannie Baumann, Castronuovo, and Alexis Kramer report.

Biden’s NIH Spending Plan Faces Criticism From House Panel: The White House’s proposed NIH budget faced criticism from both Democratic and Republican leaders of a House spending panel for pouring too much money into a new biomedical entity and not enough into the agency’s base budget. The House Appropriations Labor-HHS-Education Subcommittee held a hearing Wednesday on the 2023 budget request for the National Institutes of Health, whose budget would grow by about $270 million from the current $45 billion spending level, under the request. Jeannie Baumann has more.

What Else to Know Today

Drug Overdose Deaths Hit All-Time High: US drug overdose deaths reached an all-time record high in 2021, climbing to an estimated 107,622, the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed. Those fatalities grew 15% in 2021 compared with 2020—when the US saw a 30% jump in such deaths as the spread of Covid disturbed addiction care and isolated many. Congress is split on how to respond. Republicans want crackdowns on drug traffickers, while Democrats want sentencing changes that reduce jail time for some people arrested for drug-related crimes. Alex Ruoff has more.

Untapped Global Vaccine Stash Raises Risks of Variants: The world finds itself awash in Covid-19 vaccines, but governments can’t get them into arms fast enough. Shots that were once rare are now piling up and even expiring, a problem on the agenda of a second global Covid-19 summit the US is co-hosting on Thursday. Biden kicked off the first summit last year by announcing the US would donate another 500 million doses to the international campaign. Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress have so far blocked additional funding for the US and international efforts, Josh Wingrove, James Paton and Antony Sguazzin report.

More Headlines:

To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Giuseppe Macri at; Michaela Ross at

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