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Legislative Affairs

January 14, 2022

Voting Reform Dominates the Headlines

Filibuster is Called Into Question

Days until the current Continuing Resolution expires: 35
Days until the State of the Union address: 46
Days until first-in-the-nation primary elections (IN & OH): 109
Days until the 2022 General Election: 298

With the Build Back Better Act (BBBA) stalled, the President and Democratic leaders have turned their focus and their political capital to voting rights. This week, ahead of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, President Biden traveled to Atlanta to endorse changes to the electoral process in the U.S. and call on Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. The House passed both bills Thursday morning. However, passing either bill through the U.S. Senate would require changes to the filibuster; in his speech, the President said that “[he] supports changing the Senate rules, whichever way they need to be changed to prevent a minority of senators from blocking actions on voting rights.” The President has historically defended the filibuster, so this speech marked a significant shift for him. To change the Senate rules and “go nuclear” on the filibuster, Senate Majority Leader Schumer would need the support of every single Democratic Senator. With her speech on the Senate floor this week defending the filibuster, Sen. Sinema (D-AZ) made it clear the Majority Leader is at least one vote short. This has not deterred the Majority Leader, who announced late Thursday night that the Senate will come back into session next week to consider the legislation.

The President still says he wants both priorities — BBBA and voting rights — completed before the November election, but the outlook is murky at best. In the meantime, here’s what you might have missed:

Update on Omicron Mitigation. On Thursday, the White House announced the purchase of one billion at-home COVID-19 rapid tests. The President said officials are “on track” to launch a website where people can begin ordering tests next week, though he did not specify when the full allotment of tests will be available to send to the public. The White House is also weighing whether to send KN95 or N95 masks to every American. This comes as CDC Director Rochelle Walensky noted that most American deaths from COVID-19 are still from the Delta variant; despite being highly infectious, the Omicron variant appears to be less deadly.

This past weekend, Speaker Pelosi floated including funding to combat the next phase of the pandemic in the yet-to-be completed FY2022 appropriations bills. Similarly, on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) teased that the White House will ask Congress for “substantial” investments to address the virus.

State of the Union Date Announced. The President’s State of the Union (SOTU) address will be held on March 1. Biden’s speech will be the latest scheduled State of the Union address since 1934, after Congress shifted the opening of its sessions to January. We expect the President’s Budget Request to be delayed until closer to the SOTU.

“Four Corners” Meet Regarding FY22 Funding. On Thursday, the “Four Corners” – the Chairs and Ranking Members of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees – met to kickstart negotiations on an omnibus spending package. They will have to establish a topline figure, and then attempt to hash out policy “riders.” However, if Congress cannot agree on an omnibus and instead ends with a year long CR, hundreds of earmarks will be tossed aside. This is an item your WSW team will keep a close eye on.

Supreme Court Rules on Vaccine Mandates. Last Friday, January 7, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) heard arguments on a challenge to the OSHA COVID-19 Vaccination and Testing Emergency Temporary Standard, and to the CMS COVID-19 Vaccination Mandate. On Thursday, the SCOTUS issued opinions in both cases. Here’s what you need to know:

OSHA Vaccination and Testing ETS

  • The OSHA ETS has been blocked from being implemented – at least for the time being.
  • The SCOTUS’s granted a stay pending further consideration of the case. The decision was only regarding whether to grant a stay, not on the constitutionality of the ETS itself.
  • The focus now returns to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, where the two pending cases on the ETS will be considered and ruled on. As of today, there is no timeline for when rulings may be issued in those cases.
  • A link to the SCOTUS opinion is here.

CMS Vaccination Mandate

  • The SCOTUS has allowed the CMS Vaccination Mandate to go into effect nationwide, lifting two injunctions that had been blocking CMS from implementing the mandate. The ruling was only regarding the injunction, not on the constitutionality of the mandate itself.
  • Attention will now turn back to the two pending cases, one in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, and one in the Eighth Circuit. As of today, there is no timeline for when rulings may be issued in those cases.
  • The opinion stated that Congress has given CMS the authority to issue rules to protect the safety of Medicaid and Medicare patients, and therefore was within its authority in issuing this mandate.
  • A link to the SCOTUS opinion is here.

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