Hart Health Strategies provides a comprehensive policy briefing on a weekly basis. This in-depth health policy briefing is sent out at the beginning of each week. The health policy briefing recaps the previous week and previews the week ahead. It alerts clients to upcoming congressional hearings, newly introduced bills, regulatory announcements, and implementation activity related to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and other health laws.


Biden Certified As President Amidst Violent Clash at Capitol

Joe Biden was formally recognized as the next U.S. president by Congress last week. Supporters of President Trump marched on the Capitol as lawmakers were formally counting the Electoral College votes, breaking through security barriers and forcing themselves into the building. The clash with police resulted in at least five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer, and dozens of injuries. The President eventually released a video condemning the attack on the Capitol, but only after appearing to condone the violence and praising his supporters. The events resulted in the President being permanently banned from Twitter “due to the risk of further incitement of violence.” Two cabinet members – Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao – and several other senior White House officials, including head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) Elinor McCance-Katz and coronavirus task force member Matthew Pottinger, have resigned in response to the riot on Capitol Hill. The chief of the Capitol Police has also resigned and the House and Senate Sergeant-at-Arms have been removed from their posts.

Democratic lawmakers, joined by a number of Republicans, are demanding that the President resign or be removed from office for the role he played in encouraging the mob that stormed the Capitol. Democratic leadership attempted to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and the President’s cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment and remove Trump from office, although Pence has reportedly dismissed the idea as not feasible. The President has given no indication that he will resign.

On Sunday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced that the House will bring a vote this week on impeachment in the absence of Vice President Pence invoking the 25th Amendment as well as a separate resolution urging action under the 25th amendment. The articles of impeachment currently has more than 200 co-sponsors, and the measure will be introduced in the House of Representatives today. Even if the vote on impeachment occurs this week, top Democrats want to avoid hamstringing the first days of Joe Biden’s presidency with a Senate trial, so the House would likely delay sending the article to the Senate, which would postpone the trial. On Friday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) sent a memo to senators outlining the procedure for holding a trial in the Senate. President-elect Biden has avoided weighing in on the matter, saying that it should be the judgement of the Congress.

Democrats Win Control of Senate for First Time in Six Years

Last Tuesday’s runoff election in Georgia resulted in Democratic victories for both Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff and leading to a 50-50 seat split in the Senate. Warnock and Ossoff beat incumbent Republican opponents Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue. Each Georgia county must now certify their elections by January 15. The state faces a January 22 deadline for certification. Once the certification process is complete, Warnock and Ossoff can be sworn in to the Senate. The Georgia election results mean that incoming majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) will preside over the narrowest possible majority in the U.S. Senate under which Vice President Kamala Harris will provide the tie-breaking vote. The chamber has only seen an even divide three times before in history: 1881, 1953, and 2001. The Democratic Senate majority will ease the path to confirmation for members of Biden’s cabinet – only 51 votes are required to confirm political appointees. Senate rules will still require most legislation to have a super-majority support of 60 senators to receive a vote on the floor; Democratic centrists including Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) have already come out in opposition to abolishing the filibuster. Democrats, however, have indicated that they plan to use the fast-track budget reconciliation process for certain revenue-related bills which would allow them to pass legislation with a simple majority. The chamber is expected to negotiate a power-sharing plan for the 117th Congress. Committee chairmanship would reside with the party of the Vice President. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) is in line to lead the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, while Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would take the gavel at the Senate Finance Committee.

More Lawmakers Test Positive for COVID-19

House Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Kay Granger (R-Texas) and House Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) have tested positive for COVID-19 after returning to Washington for the start of the 117th Congress. The positive tests follows their receipt of the first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine last month. Rep. Jake LaTurner (R-Kansas) also announced that he had tested positive for the virus. At least 53 members of Congress or lawmakers-elect have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, and dozens more have been exposed to the virus or found to have antibodies. According to other lawmakers present, about half of the 400 lawmakers and staff who were moved from the House chamber to a different secure location during the certification of the presidential election results refused to wear masks. The Capitol’s attending physician confirmed over the weekend that lawmakers may have been exposed to COVID-19 while in protective isolation. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warned last week that the tests being used to screen members of Congress and their staff for COVID-19 poses a risk of false results, particularly false negative results.

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