Pandemic preparedness bill moves ahead; funding still needed
A Senate committee has approved a bipartisan blueprint to overhaul the nation’s public health system, applying the lessons of COVID-19 to future outbreaks through a new chain of command, a stronger medical supply chain, and clearer crisis communications.
Watchdog says key federal health agency is failing on crises
A federal watchdog says the government's main health agency is failing to meet its responsibilities for leading the national response to public health emergencies including the COVID-19 pandemic, extreme weather disasters and even potential bioterrorist attacks.
Democrats push for paid family leave ahead of critical votes
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi surprised advocates, and even many of her Democratic colleagues, when she revived a long-sought paid family and medical leave plan and said it would be part of a massive social and environmental spending bill in the House.
Fighting Biden virus aid, GOP rekindles Obama-era strategy
Americans are experiencing flickers of optimism at the one-year anniversary of the deadly outbreak as more people are vaccinated. But new strains of the virus and a still shaky economy could unleash another devastating cycle of infections, lockdowns and deaths. Biden and Democrats warn that now is not the time to let up on aid, and that it's better to risk doing too much than too little. McConnell expressed similar optimism last spring when he hit “pause” on new spending after approval of the initial round of aid. GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said by the time they're done they hope to turn public opinion around.
Fighting Biden virus aid, GOP rekindles Obama-era strategy
AdIt’s a tested strategy but comes at an uncertain, volatile time for the nation. Americans are experiencing flickers of optimism at the one-year anniversary of the deadly outbreak as more people are vaccinated. But new strains of the virus and a still shaky economy could unleash another devastating cycle of infections, lockdowns and deaths. Biden and the Democrats backing him warn that now is not the time to let up on aid — better to risk doing too much, than too little. GOP Sen. Mike Braun of Indiana said by the time they're done they hope to turn public opinion around.
Biden, Yellen say GOP virus aid too small, Democrats push on
From left, Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Vice President Kamala Harris, Biden, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska. Biden and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen joined the Democratic senators for a private virtual meeting, both declaring the Republicans' $618 billion offer was too small. “President Biden spoke about the need for Congress to respond boldly and quickly,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said after the lunch meeting. The president made it clear that he won’t delay aid in hopes of winning GOP support. Biden proposes $170 billion for schools, compared to $20 billion in the Republican plan.
Democrats prep Biden's virus aid package with or without GOP
(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)WASHINGTON – Senate Democrats are preparing to push ahead quickly on President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package even if it means using procedural tools to pass the legislation on their own, leaving Republicans behind. Coming so soon in Biden's administration, the action provides a first test of Republican opposition to the White House priorities as well as to the new president's promise of a “unity” agenda. Biden's COVID-19 aid package includes money for vaccine distribution, school reopenings and $1,400 direct payments to households and gradually boosts the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour over five years. White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters earlier Tuesday that Biden is still looking to negotiate on an aid package, while emphasizing that several components of the existing aid will lapse in March. Collins said Tuesday that the White House made good on its commitment to deliver a more detailed accounting of the proposed expenditure.
Spending bill to restore federal college grants for inmates
The massive, catchall bill combines $900 billion in COVID-19 aid with a $1.4 trillion spending bill. A 1994 bill blocked prisoners from the program, but momentum has been growing to reverse the decision. For Republicans, the bill secures a longtime goal to simplify the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, the form that students fill out to determine their eligibility for federal financial aid. It would provide $23 billion to colleges and universities, the first federal virus aid since a virus package Congress approved in March. For K-12 schools, the bill provides $54.3 billion, with an additional $4.1 billion that governors can use on education.
US angling to secure more of Pfizer's coronavirus vaccine
Meanwhile, the FDA said late Wednesday that some Pfizer vaccine vials may contain more than the standard five doses. The Trump administration has come under scathing criticism from congressional Democrats after news leaked out last week about the missed opportunity to secure more vaccine. A second vaccine from Moderna appears headed for Food and Drug Administration approval within days, and more vaccine candidates are advancing through clinical trials. Operation Warp Speed has financed the development, manufacture and distribution of millions of doses, with the goal of providing a free vaccine to any American who wants one. Pfizer was not as closely involved with Operation Warp Speed as other manufacturers, preferring to retain control over its own development and manufacturing.
Alexander preaches consensus in farewell to fractious Senate
Alexander left the GOP's leadership track during the Obama years to focus on his committee work. As chairman of the HELP panel, Alexander shepherded a 2015 rewrite of elementary and high school education that swept through the Senate with near-universal support. “Lamar listened to me when I told him we should write a bill together, rather than amending the Republican bill he had begun working on,” Murray said. Alexander offered a defense of the chamber's traditions, especially the filibuster that forces consensus — or, increasingly, gridlock — upon the Senate. Alexander will be replaced by Nashville businessman Bill Hagerty, a Republican backed by President Donald Trump.
McConnell, Schumer to lead, but Senate majority uncertain
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won another term as Republican leader, his office said, cementing his role as the longest-serving GOP leader in U.S. history. But it’s still to be determined whether McConnell will retain his role as majority leader or cede it to Schumer as the final races for the U.S. Senate play out. Republicans brushed back Democratic challengers in several states, but failed to lock down the seats needed to retain their majority. The math has become more challenging for McConnell because the vice president of the party holding the White House casts the tie-breaking vote in the Senate. A Democratic majority in the Senate, the party that also controls the House would give the party a firm grasp on power in Washington.
Trump aide's no-holds-barred style sparks new COVID-19 furor
Michael Caputo, the top spokesman at the Department of Health and Human Services, can be heard on an agency podcast asserting that Democrats don't want a coronavirus vaccine in order to punish President Donald Trump. Caputo was named the top HHS spokesman in April, during a tense period in relations between the White House and HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “There are people in the United States government on the Democrats' side ... (who) do not want a vaccine,” he said. “They don’t want a vaccine until November 4th,” he added, citing the day after the presidential election. They don’t want a vaccine now because of politics, sir.”___Associated Press news researcher Jennifer Farrar contributed to this report.
Fauci: US 'going in wrong direction' in coronavirus outbreak
(Kevin Dietsch/Pool via AP)The U.S. is going in the wrong direction with the coronavirus surging badly enough that Dr. Anthony Fauci told senators Tuesday some regions are putting the entire country at risk just as schools and colleges are wrestling with how to safely reopen. Connect the dots, he told senators: When and how school buildings can reopen will vary depending on how widely the coronavirus is spreading locally. I feel very strongly we need to do whatever we can to get the children back to school, he said. Its not clear if that kind of broad-stroke testing would reduce spread of the coronavirus, CDC concluded. ___The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institutes Department of Science Education.
Congress stalls out again dealing with national trauma
(AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)WASHINGTON For a moment, Congress had a chance to act on policing reform, mobilized by a national trauma and overwhelming public support. There are other high-profile examples where public support has been unable to overcome hyper-partisanship in Congress most notably on gun control. The parties have also failed to make progress in overhauling the nations fractured immigration laws, despite broad public support. Murray said in an interview that there was little attempt to do that kind of behind-the-scenes work on policing reform. The feeling that you want to accomplish something, that you want to get something done ... is a very different feeling than we saw with policing reform."
Where's Markey? Senator misses dozens of votes in pandemic
Only Markey and Democratic Sen. Patty Murray of Washington state missed the vote. Of 42 Senate votes in May and the first half of June, Markey missed 34 or about 80%, according to information from GovTrack, an independent clearinghouse for congressional data. Of those missed votes, one of the more notable for Markey was last weeks vote on the Great American Outdoors Act. The bill, which passed on a bipartisan 73-25 vote vote, would spend $3 billion on conservation projects, outdoor recreation and maintenance of national parks and other public lands. In all of 2019, Markey missed just 19 of 428 votes or less than 5%.
Federal coronavirus testing plan puts burden on states
WASHINGTON The Trump administrations new strategy for coronavirus testing puts much of the burden on states while promising to provide supplies such as swabs and material to transport specimens. The plan, which was delivered Sunday to members of Congress, drew harsh criticism Monday from Democrats. In a joint letter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer, New Jersey Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. and Washington Sen. Patty Murray said the administration still does not have a serious plan for increasing testing to stop the spread of the virus.The report comes as the U.S. death toll from the pandemic is approaching 100,000. The HHS document, which The Washington Post first reported, recommends that all states have an objective of testing a minimum of 2 percent of their population in May and June.The Democratic lawmakers, who released the HHS report along with their joint letter, said it confirms that President Trumps national testing strategy is to deny the truth that there arent enough tests and supplies, reject responsibility and dump the burden onto the states.The Trump Administration still does not take any responsibility for ramping up our nations testing capacity, instead pushing the burden onto the states forcing states to compete with each other to procure vital supplies to administer tests from the private market, the lawmakers wrote. They also called on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to act on the $3 trillion virus release package passed earlier this month by the House, saying it would deliver a clear strategy and $75 billion for the testing and contact tracing necessary to stop the spread of this vicious virus.