Weekly Update for Week Ending August 14, 2020

Weekly Update for Week Ending August 14, 2020

Despite the coronavirus emergency, TSCL is continuing its fight for you to protect your Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid benefits.  We have had to make some adjustments in the way we carry on our work, but we have not, and will not stop our work on your behalf.

Congress Departs Without Passing New Economic Relief Bill – and why it Matters to Seniors

As anyone who was following the news last week knows, Congress failed to reach an agreement on a new coronavirus economic relief bill, so they went home.  They have left it up to the leadership in both houses to try and come up with legislation that can pass both bodies, but no one sounds optimistic that will happen before they return in September.

As things are scheduled for now, the Senate will return to the Capitol on Sept. 8.  In the meantime, it will be in a “pro-forma session.”  That happens in the Senate at a time during which no legislative business is conducted. The sessions are held to satisfy a provision of the Constitution that prohibits either chamber from adjourning for more than three days without the permission of the other chamber. When the House or Senate recesses or adjourns for more than three days, both chambers adopt concurrent resolutions providing for the recess or adjournment.

In addition, the Senate sometimes holds pro-forma sessions during recess periods to prevent the president from making recess appointments. This is apparently why the Senate remains in the pro-forma session since the House is also out of session.  The Senate has the Constitutional responsibility to confirm certain appointments of the President but President Trump has made many appointments at other times when the Senate has been in recess and there are many “acting” secretaries, assistant secretaries and other officials of various departments and agencies serving without Senate confirmation.

In the meantime, Senators have been advised they will be given 24 hours’ notice to return to Washington if somehow agreement can be reached on a new economic relief bill.  But any Senator has the power to block that from happening and it is estimated there are about 20 Republicans in the Senate who believe the federal government has done enough regarding the coronavirus.

When the Senate does return on Sept. 8 the first thing on its agenda will be to continue confirmation hearings on President Trump's nominations of judges to the federal judiciary.  But the Senate has yet to pass one funding bill for the federal government for FY 2021 which begins Oct. 1.

The House of Representatives, on the other hand, has passed 10 of the 12 funding bills that are needed, with only the Homeland Security and Legislative branch funding bills left.  Because there is so little time left before the start of the new fiscal year there is the real possibility there could be a government shutdown right before the November election.

The other alternative will be a “continuing resolution,” know as a “CR,” something that has happened so many times before in recent history when Congress has not been able to get its work done on time.

Unless there is a breakthrough regarding a new coronavirus bill, the House is scheduled to return to business on Sept. 14.  That will leave 2 ½ weeks in September for it to pass the two remaining funding bills but that will probably depend on how negotiations for a new coronavirus bill as well as a CR go once they return.

Why is this important for TSCL supporters?

Because it means new legislation to reduce the costs of prescription drugs is not likely to be passed this year and will have to await the start of the next Congress in January of 2021.  In addition, as we've explained in the last couple of updates, the executive announcements the President issued regarding prescription drugs are not clear about what drugs they cover and even if things get clarified it is highly unlikely seniors will see a reduction in drug prices this year.  And, of course, the major drug companies are strongly opposed to orders and are fighting to change them.

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News on the Coronavirus Vaccine Front

The U.S. has given billions of dollars to drug companies to develop a vaccine against the coronavirus that has infected more than 5.1 million people across the country.  It has even gambled on locking in a minimum of 800 million doses as soon as the immunizations are cleared later this year or early next year.

The object is to provide at least 300 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine by January 2021. In most of the agreements with the drug companies, the Department of Health and Human Services says the vaccines will be given to the American people for free if part of a vaccine campaign. Once the vaccines are approved, the program is intended to quickly deliver them to as many people as possible. The federal government has said it will cover the cost of delivery, but health-care providers can charge to administer the vaccine.

However, that all depends on the development of a vaccine that proves to be effective.  Dr. Anthony Fauci believes that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will approve a vaccine if it only works 50% of the time.

It also depends on the willingness of the American people to get the vaccine shot.  Right now, there seems to be a reluctance among people because of, among other things, the uncertainty about the safety of a vaccine that has been rushed to market.  It is a special concern for seniors because they do not often respond as well to medicines, including vaccines, as younger people do.

There are apparently also political and ideological reasons for the reluctance at this point to get the vaccine when one becomes available.  According to one survey, attitudes were split along party lines.

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Drug Makers Pour Huge Dollars into Campaigns

According to an article by StateNews .com, pharmaceutical manufacturers have been pouring millions of dollars into this year's Congressional campaigns.

“The world’s biggest drug makers and their trade groups have cut checks to 356 lawmakers ahead of this year’s election — more than two-thirds of the sitting members of Congress, according to a new STAT analysis.

“It’s a barrage of contributions that accounts for roughly $11 million in campaign giving, distributed via roughly 4,500 checks from the political action committees affiliated with the companies.

“The spending follows a long tradition of generous political giving. Major manufacturers typically make hundreds of modest donations to incumbent members of Congress but avoid donating to presidential candidates, seeing little utility in placing presidential bets.

“As the Covid-19 pandemic has sparked a race among drug makers eager to develop a vaccine and improve the industry’s standing in Washington — pharma’s giving underscores the breadth of its influence and its efforts to curry favor through lobbying and donations to the lawmakers who regulate health care.

“Already in 2020, the companies’ PACs have donated $8.62 million to individual candidates or their affiliated committees. The companies directed another $2.59 million to broader political groups like the Moderate Democrats PAC or the National Republican Senatorial Committee, and to other drug industry PACs, including PhRMA’s.”

We share this information with you as a reminder that TSCL does not get any money from the drug makers or any other corporate or major donors.  We rely only on you, our supporters, for the funds that allow us to keeping fighting on your behalf to protect the benefits you paid for all of your working life: benefits you earned, you deserve and that you depend on.

You should know that there are some groups who call themselves senior groups but are funded mostly by the drug makers and other corporate interests.  Whereas TSCL is beholden only to you, those groups dare not oppose the corporations that fund them, whether it is in the interests of seniors or not.

TSCL does not give money to campaigns for political office and in one way that puts us at a disadvantage as compared with the big corporations.  But we have something they do not have: YOU.

Right now, every politician in Washington has his or her eye on November.  That is when the voters speak and hold their elected officials accountable.

What TSCL does is try to hold elected officials accountable, not just in an election year, but when there is not an election.  With your continued support, we will do just that.

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For progress updates or for more information about these and other bills that would strengthen Social Security and Medicare programs, visit the Bill Tracking section of our website or follow TSCL on Twitter.