Today is November 1 which means there are 20 days left for Congress to reach agreement on funding the federal government for the remainder of fiscal year 2020, which began on October 1. Despite that, the House of Representatives will be in recess next week and the Senate will have a limited schedule.
The House, at least, has passed all 12 of the funding bills needed to keep the government in operation for next year. The Senate this week finally managed to pass the first four of the 12 bills it needs to pass.
However, passing the remaining eight bills and then negotiating the differences in all the spending measures with the House in order to come up with legislation that both the House and the Senate can agree to is still a long way away. Because of that there is already talk that temporary spending legislation will once again be needed in order to prevent a government shutdown on November 22. Some Congressional leaders want the temporary spending legislation to extend into December while others want it to extend into February of next year.
In addition, they are pointing fingers at each other as to who is to blame for the failure to fund the government. The Republicans blame the impeachment investigation in the House as the reason they can’t agree on the needed spending legislation while the Democrats are blaming President Trump’s insistence on getting more money to spend on building his wall on the southern border.
While leaders in both parties have said they don’t want a government shutdown, they said the same thing when the government ran out of money in 2018 and there was a brief shutdown.
It’s still possible Congress could complete its work and fully fund the government within the next 20 days, but it’s becoming clear that probably won’t happen. As Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby, a Republican, was quoted as saying this week, “Miracles do happen but I haven’t seen a lot of them around here.”
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We’ve been reporting on the main legislation now in Congress that would lower the cost of prescription drugs. It’s a bill authored by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) that has as its main feature authorizing the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate the prices of up to 250 drugs with the pharmaceutical manufacturers. The Speaker hopes to bring the bill up for a vote in the House by the middle of this month.
However, disagreement this week between factions of her own party are raising doubts about whether that will happen. Some of the progressives in her party want to add more provisions that they say will toughen the bill while some of the more centrist Blue Dog Democrats in the House are warning that they may not support the bill if those provisions are added.
Either way, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has said he will not take the bill up in the Senate if the House passes it. Pelosi, however, is still hopeful that President Trump will weigh in in support of her bill given his rhetoric against high drug prices, and some centrists want to move toward common ground with Republicans to increase those odds.
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Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) has announced he will be retiring from the Senate at the end of the year for health reasons. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2013 and he has other health issues that he said is forcing him to step down. Before he leaves, however, he wants to pass a bill that he says is badly needed to help improve our laws regarding over-the-counter medications.
His bill would modify how nonprescription drugs, which would include everything from Tylenol to sunscreen, are overseen by the Food and Drug Administration, a process created 45 years ago. The measure looks to speed up the process by which FDA reviews these products and creates new user fees to support the changes.
“It is past time to modernize and overhaul our woefully outdated over-the-counter drug approval process,” Isakson said in a statement.
It is believed that speeding up the regulatory process would allow the FDA to more-easily deal with labeling and safety issues.
Ironically, it’s been members of his own party who have blocked the bill from moving through the Senate for years. However, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee approved Isakson’s bill this week so with only two months remaining before he retires, perhaps the Senate will finally pass the legislation he has worked on for so long.
The House of Representatives passed a bill very similar to the Isakson bill earlier this year so if it can pass the Senate it should be relatively easy to get a final version of the bill to the President for his signature.