Biden Releases More Details on COVID Response and Vaccine Plan

The Biden administration is planning an overhaul of the nation’s COVID-19 vaccination program and will retire the Operation Warp Speed (OWS) name. The vaccine program will be led by David Kessler, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) who will serve as the chief science officer of Biden’s COVID response. Kessler will replace Moncef Slaoui, a leader of OWS, and will be responsible for ensuring vaccine access, developing an antiviral program, and building sustainable manufacturing capabilities. President-elect Joe Biden is planning to sign executive actions focused on the coronavirus pandemic during his second day in office. The actions will reportedly cover ways to help schools and businesses reopen safely, expand testing, protect workers, and establish clearer public health standards. The new administration is also expected to announce a $1 billion national ad campaign aimed at addressing vaccine hesitancy. It would include awareness initiatives as well as paid media to promote the nation’s inoculation efforts. Biden’s goal is to administer 100 million vaccines during his first 100 days in office. The incoming administration’s vaccination plan includes new immunization sites and mobile clinics and increased funding to states to administer the vaccine to Medicaid patients.

Companies Review Political Contributions Following Violence at Capitol

The U.S. campaign finance system is starting to experience the repercussions of the insurrection at the Capitol by supporters of President Trump. Major firms, including Amgen, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization (BIO), UnitedHealth Group, and Gilead Sciences have decided to pause or halt all political contributions in light of the recent challenges to the presidential election results by lawmakers in Congress. The companies plan to reexamine their role in American politics and review their political donations. Other organizations, such as the American Hospital Association, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, PhRMA, and Eli Lilly are only stopping donations to those Republicans who voted against President-elect Joe Biden’s certification. Additionally, the Lincoln Project plans to launch an ad campaign in the coming days shedding light on those companies and their executives who donate to lawmakers that voted to reject the election results. Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) has already acted to issue an apology to Black Tulsans for his role in questioning the presidential election results. He said that he did not realize that his actions were “seen as casting doubt on the validity of votes coming out of predominantly Black communities.”

More Resignations Follow Insurrection at Capitol

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar submitted a letter of resignation to the White House on Friday. Azar noted the deadly riot at the Capitol that took place on January 6 in his letter, an event that he believes tarnished the Trump administration’s accomplishments. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Seema Verma similarly announced that she would resign her position effective January 20. Earlier in the week, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) Director Gopal Khanna submitted his resignation to Secretary Azar in response to the riot on Capitol Hill.

More Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) has tested positive for COVID-19. Coleman is a lung-cancer survivor. She believes she was exposed to the virus after sheltering with other lawmakers during the storming of the U.S. Capitol, at which time a number of her colleagues and their staff refused to wear masks. She had previously received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine when it was made available to all Congress members. Reps. Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) also announced that they had received a positive test after sheltering in the same room during the lockdown with Republican colleagues who declined to wear masks. Espaillat recently received the second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and acknowledged in his announcement that the effects of the vaccine take time to develop. In related news, the House of Representatives adopted a resolution last week that establishes fines for lawmakers who fail to comply with mask requirements on the House floor. The rule would establish a $500 fine for first offenses and a $2,500 fine for second offenses, directly deducting the fine from member pay.

House Committee Membership Updates

The Republican Steering Committee met last week to recommend new members for certain committees for the 117th Congress. Eight were selected to join the House Energy and Commerce Committee, including: Reps. Kelly Armstrong (R-N.D.), Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas), John Curtis (R-Utah), Neal Dunn (R-Fla.) -- a urologist, John Joyce (R-Pa.) -- a dermatologist, Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), Gary Palmer (R-Ala.), and Greg Pence (R-Ind.). The picks must still be ratified by the full GOP conference.

Reps. Kevin Hern (R-Okla.), Lloyd Smucker (R-Pa.) and Carol Miller (R-W.Va.) were recommended to join the House Ways and Means Committee. Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) stated that lowering health care costs and making Social Security and Medicare more sustainable would be his top priorities for the panel.

House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas) announced her panel’s subcommittee leadership for the 117th Congress. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) will lead the Agriculture-Food and Drug Administration panel, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) will lead the Labor-Health and Human Services-Education panel, and Rep. John Carter (R-Texas) will lead the Veterans Affairs panel.

Timeline for New Democratic Senators To Be Sworn In

Georgia officials are expected to certify the results of the recent Senate runoff election prior to President-elect Joe Biden taking office on January 20. The two seats were won by Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff, who defeated Republican incumbents David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. It is unclear how quickly the two new lawmakers could be seated in the Senate chamber. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has been tapped to replace Vice President-elect Kamala Harris in the Senate, is expected to be sworn in after Biden and Harris take the oath of office on Inauguration Day. Once the Georgia contests are certified and Harris is sworn in as Vice President, Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will take over as Senate Majority Leader.

Wyden Previews Agenda for Finance Committee

Incoming Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) has begun previewing his agenda for the panel during the 117th Congress. Wyden has said that he plans to build off of the bipartisan drug pricing package he developed last year with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), which would cap drug costs for Medicare beneficiaries and require manufacturers pay rebates for Medicare Part B and Part D drugs and biologics whose prices increase faster than inflation. Wyden also hopes to work with House Democrats on legislation that would allow the government to negotiate Medicare drug prices. He noted that the use of budget reconciliation remains under consideration. Wyden plans to reintroduce legislation that would prevent manufacturers from raising the price of their COVID-19 vaccines by creating an inflation rebate for Medicare and Medicaid based on the vaccine price negotiated between the federal government and the pharmaceutical company. Wyden is also expected to push to expand health care coverage and undo Trump administration efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Former Finance Committee Chair Grassley was term-limited as the Republican leader of the panel. He is expected to be replaced by Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), who has not yet outlined his policy priorities. Crapo voted against the Wyden- Grassley drug pricing measure during the 116th Congress.

Wyden/Grassley Release Findings from Insulin Investigation

Sens. Wyden and Grassley have released the results of their bipartisan investigation into insulin price increases after nearly two-years of fact finding. The Senate Finance Committee also released more than 1,700 pages of documents containing internal emails, contracts, and presentations that served as the basis of the investigation. The documents show that companies – Sanofi and Novo Nordisk in particular – raised their prices around the same time without making significant changes to the medicine itself.

Ways and Means Dems Release Materials on Health Equity

Democrats on the Ways and Means Committee have released a new report and legislative framework detailing how the panel will work to achieve health and economic equity and address the role that racism, ableism, and other social, structural, and political determinants play in perpetuating health and economic inequity in the U.S. The report, “Something Must Change: Inequities in U.S. Policy and Society,” provides key context for members’ legislative priorities and informs the framework, “A Bold Vision for a Legislative Path Toward Health and Economic Equity,” which outlines a policy agenda for the 117th Congress. The health equity pillars contained in the framework are:

  • Adaptable, Accessible Technologies and Modernized Infrastructure
  • Appropriate, Adequate, and Trusted Workforce
  • Affordable, Comprehensive, and Accessible Health Care
  • Support to State and Local Governments for Maximum Efficiency of Resources

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