OASHINGTON — The outlook for White House health and science priorities has become much brighter.
With a Democratic Senate, as the Associated Press projected Saturday night, it will be much easier for President Biden to get nominees confirmed, including the one he chooses to lead the National Institutes of Health. Public health officials like National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci will face less scrutiny as Democrats retain power over key health committees. And Democrats will be a drag on a possible House Republican that may want to clash with Biden on issues like government funding and health insurance.
A Democratic majority will figuratively declaw Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican who had been chomping at the bit to seize control of the Senate Health Committee and use it to pressure Fauci for information on the coronavirus pandemic. He promised in his victory speech Tuesday night to subpoena documents related to Fauci, investigate the origins of Covid-19 and review NIH-funded research.
But Paul won’t have as much power to cause headaches for Fauci and the White House under a Democratic majority. He will not have the power of subpoena and he will not have the power to call hearings with public health officials.
The Democrats’ victory will also make it easier to confirm a potential NIH director. Republicans are widely skeptical of the agency, and critics are frustrated with the agency’s glacial pace following rapid advances on Covid-19. A new director would be responsible for settling debates on whether to focus on basic science or on instant-impact development projects.
But even with a similar slim majority in the Senate, some things will be different this time around. It is highly unlikely that Democrats will be able to repeat their historic health care achievements in the last Congress, from billions in pandemic relief funding to the biggest drug price reform in 20 years, to putting together a slate of candidates to lead the Biden administration’s health care. bureaucracy.
If the Democrats lose the House, that means they would no longer have the ability to pass partisan legislation and would have to negotiate much more closely with the Republicans to accomplish much of everything. That means there likely won’t be any health policy illusions that Democrats can’t board Republicans with.
However, it still opens the doors to bipartisan cooperation. Policy issues on access to telehealth, mental health, affordability of insulin, reforming the role of drug benefit managers and pandemic preparedness legislation were bipartisan priorities in the last Congress. .
But even bipartisan deals will be harder to reach than last year, as a few longtime Republican champions of public health issues and science leave.
Sen. Richard Burr (RN.C.), who led his caucus on pandemic preparedness issues, and Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), who promoted funding for the National Institutes of Health, also backed President Biden’s nominee for Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Robert Califf in a close confirmation battle earlier this year. Both will retire in January.
Burr’s legacy bill, the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Act, which created infrastructure and regulators to quickly respond to public health threats, is due for reauthorization next year, and it’s unclear to what extent a House Republican caucus is more hostile to public health funding. the priorities will be to renew the policy.
House Republicans have also proposed Medicare reforms as part of a possible stalemate on government spending, but even if they took control of the House, having a Democratic Senate would make it much harder to win. signature of policies reducing benefits for the elderly.
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