HEALTH CARE BRIEFING: State Bans Spur Democrats to Abortion Vote

Congressional Democrats are pushing legislation to cement abortion access into law and protect health-care providers of such services in response to anti-abortion measures in Republican-controlled states.

House Democrats are expected to pass a bill (H.R. 3755) today that would preserve the right to abortion services across the country. The Senate will likely wait weeks before voting on it, and it’s unlikely to pass there.

Texas banned abortions when a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally around six weeks of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest. Florida is expected to follow suit with similar legislation. “It has evoked a response,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said of the Texas law. Democrats have more pro-abortion-rights votes in Congress now that ever before, and control the White House, she said.

The bill has widespread support among House Democrats; 214 of the 220 Democrats in the chamber have co-sponsored the bill. A Senate companion has the support of 48 of the 50 Democrats. Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Bob Casey (Pa.) are the lone Democratic holdouts. Neither bill has any Republican supporters.

Republicans condemn the legislation as too broad because it would end the prohibition on federal funds for abortion services and potentially permit abortions at any time during a pregnancy. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) called it the “most extreme legislation ever” at a House Rules Committee meeting on Monday.

Some Senate Democrats want their chamber to take up the legislation, even though it lacks the 60 votes needed to move to the president’s desk. “I would like to see us vote on it straight up on the floor,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) said. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said she also wants a vote on the legislation, but doesn’t expect one until after Congress has dealt with other pressing matters, such as the expiration of the nation’s debt limit and government funding.

Those issues could push a potential vote past October, she said. “We’re not going to pause our current work, but I do think this has to be a priority at some point,” she said. Read more from Alex Ruoff.

Abortion-Rights Groups Ask for SCOTUS Review of Texas Law: Reproductive-rights groups asked the U.S. Supreme Court to take up an expedited appeal on Texas’s ban on most abortions. The appeal challenges the law’s novel enforcement structure, which lets private parties sue those who help facilitate abortions. The court let the ban take effect by a 5-4 vote, but groups want the court to hear an appeal without waiting for a lower court ruling. Greg Stohr has more.

Florida Proposal Would Echo Texas Law: Meanwhile in Florida, a legislator proposed banning most abortions in the state and allowing lawsuits against doctors who violate it, mirroring the Texas law. It wasn’t immediately clear how much support the bill would garner. The Republican-controlled state legislature has signaled significant support for abortion policies, but Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) hasn’t seen it and the state’s GOP House speaker was noncommittal, Michael Smith and Jonathan Levin report.

Happening on the Hill

Manchin Questions Medicare Expansion, Backs Cutting Drug Prices: Sen. Manchin said yesterday he doesn’t support expanding Medicare benefits without first addressing the program’s long-term solvency, again putting him at odds with Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and other key liberals as they negotiate President Joe Biden’s economic agenda. Asked about Democrats’ plans to expand benefits for dental, vision and hearing in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill, Manchin pointed to the program’s long-term financial problems instead.

Manchin did, however, reiterate his support for Medicare negotiating lower prices for prescription drugs—another top Democratic priority imperiled by a small group of House Democrats during negotiations on Biden’s economic agenda. Read more from Steven T. Dennis.

Congress Juggles Agenda: Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are running up against multiple critically important deadlines as they navigate a fraught political landscape where any misstep could have dire consequences for the national economy and Biden’s legacy. While some of the worst-case scenarios — a government shutdown, a federal default or the complete collapse of Biden’s economic plan — are unlikely, several obstacles stand in the way as leaders manage intertwining negotiations and competing political agendas. Laura Davison and Erik Wasson offer a rundown of the ongoing battles in Congress.

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Biden Booster Push Limps to Finish, Dogged by Uncertainty

The U.S. will begin giving Covid-19 booster shots to millions of Americans today — a watershed moment in the nation’s battle against the pandemic that officials hope will beat back another brutal winter wave of infections.

But even after months of internal debate between political appointees and health and science officials in the Biden administration, little consensus has emerged on whether widespread boosters are medically necessary or morally just.

Biden has endured opprobrium abroad for his aggressive effort to get a third shot into the arms of American adults before much of the world has received even one dose. However, it’s a politically popular policy in the U.S., where many fully vaccinated people fear “breakthrough” infections — even though data suggest they cause mostly mild illness.

Yesterday laid bare how split experts remain on the use of boosters. A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory panel unanimously backed the shots for those aged 65 and up, but voted against them for people ages 18 to 64 in jobs or settings where they’re at risk of becoming infected — a group that includes tens of millions of people and encompasses health-care staff and retail workers. Later in the night, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky overruled them, restoring the 18-to-64 workplace category to the eligible groups. Read more from Josh Wingrove and Riley Griffin.

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopted the use of booster shots in the U.S. for people at high risk of contracting or falling seriously ill from Covid-19, overruling a narrower recommendation from the agency’s advisers and clearing the way for a widespread vaccination campaign. Millions of Americans who were immunized with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at least six months ago should receive a booster dose, including those aged 65 or older, those in long-term health care facilities and those aged 50 to 64 with underlying medical conditions, the agency said in a statement. People aged 18 to 49 with medical conditions and those who are at high-risk for being exposed to the virus at their workplaces or elsewhere may also receive a third dose. Read more from Fiona Rutherford, Robert Langreth and Josh Wingrove.
  • Meanwhile, the FDA’s authorization of booster shots on an emergency basis for the fully approved Pfizer vaccine opens the door to rolling out more third doses, while putting the drugmaker on the hook for more data and complicating avenues for broader off-label use. Pfizer has the green light from the agency to offer boosters of its vaccine to the elderly and high-risk groups. It now must navigate the varied pathways to get the needed data to win full licensure. Jeannie Baumann has more.

More on the Pandemic

School Reopenings Falter as U.S. Kids Near 1 Million Cases: U.S. schools were counting on widespread vaccinations to help get all students back to in-person classes for the first time since early 2020. Mere weeks into the effort, omens of another taxing year are emerging amid scattershot safety rules and rising cases in children. In the past month, with K-12 in session, the U.S. has seen nearly 1 million Covid-19 cases in kids under 18. As of Sunday, 2,000 schools have closed. Elise Young and Nic Querolo have more.

Companies See ‘Manna From Heaven’ With Vaccine Rule: Companies worried about angering workers with a vaccine mandate are seeing a gift with Biden’s plan to require the shots. “Everybody loves this cover,” said Kate Bischoff, a Minnesota employment lawyer. “The fact that they get to blame Biden is like manna from heaven.” Lawyers at companies spanning the financial services, technology, and consumer goods industries spoke with Bloomberg Law’s Ruiqi Chen about Biden’s vaccine mandate. Read more.

  • The OSHA order—which applies to companies with 100 employees or more—puts the office in new territory for rulemaking. “There’s no precedent for a 100-person threshold,” said Thomas McGarity, an administrative law professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law. The threshold raises a range of concerns for employers and advocates, including whether people working from home, temporary staff, or independent contractors will be counted toward it. Bruce Rolfsen has more.
  • Meanwhile, a group of federal workers filed suit against the U.S. government on religious grounds over its vaccine mandate, saying Christians are required to “to refuse a medical intervention, including a vaccination, if his or her informed conscience comes to this sure judgment.” Unlike Biden’s mandate for private companies, the president’s rule for the federal workforce doesn’t allow employees to be regularly tested as an alternative to the vaccine. Tina Davis has more.

U.S. Helps Florida Schools Hit by Mask Mandate Fines: A Florida school district where board members lost pay for enforcing a mask mandate will get $148,000 from the U.S. Education Department, the first such award to help schools punished for Covid-19 protocols. The mandate at the Alachua County school board is in conflict with an executive order issued by Gov. DeSantis. It’s part of the White House’s strategy to resist GOP-led efforts to halt virus mitigation measures. Andrew Kreighbaum has more.

Test Makers Told to Update Labeling in Wake of Variants: Covid-19 test makers must consider the impact of viral mutations on the performance of their tests and update labeling to reflect the potential performance effects, according to an FDA letter revising conditions of authorization for tests for emergency use. The change applies to molecular, antigen, and serology tests under EUAs, but not to standalone home kits. Test makers must update the labeling to reflect changes amid viral variants. Allie Reed has more.

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What Else to Know Today

Paid Leave Plan Creates Complex Role for Insurers: The insurance industry may end up managing federally funded paid leave benefits worth billions a year in Democrats’ budget legislation, a complex program and a departure from the Social Security-style entitlement envisioned in Democrats’ prior paid family and medical leave proposals. The design of a national paid leave program and which agency runs it are among the differences being negotiated by lawmakers and the administration. Chris Marr has more.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Brandon Lee in Washington at blee@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Giuseppe Macri at gmacri@bgov.com; Michaela Ross at mross@bgov.com

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