US Declares New Public Health Emergency

US Declares New Public Health Emergency

Reuters/Dado Ruvic
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Thursday, August 4, 2022

Happy Thursday! The Senate is set for a busy weekend as Democrats look to pass their budget reconciliation bill in the coming days. Here’s what’s happening.

US Declares Monkeypox a Public Health Emergency

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Thursday that the viral disease known as monkeypox is now a public health emergency in the U.S.

The emergency declaration frees up federal funds for health agencies to use for testing, treatment and tracking of the disease. The money may also be used to develop new tests and treatments, with an accelerated review process at the Food and Drug Administration. In addition, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will now have access to a wider range of information from states and cities about the progress of the current outbreak.

Health officials have identified more than 6,600 probable or confirmed cases in the U.S. since the first case was detected in May, with the vast majority of infections concentrated among gay men. According to the CDC, the U.S. has the largest number of cases, which have been recorded in every state except Montana and Wyoming. Worldwide, more than 26,000 cases have been reported.

Some states and cities – including national hotspot New York City – have already declared emergencies over the disease, and the Biden administration has been criticized for moving too slowly on the issue.

Lawrence Gostin, who specialized in public health law at Georgetown, told Bloomberg News that the declaration should help health officials get a better handle on the disease. “The window for containing monkeypox is rapidly closing, but I think it is possible to contain the outbreak,” he said. “But we need a revved-up response at the federal and state level. And that includes declaring a national emergency.”

Some critics, however, say the Biden administration waited too long to make the emergency declaration. “I don’t really understand why they didn’t do this weeks ago,” said James Krellenstein of PrEP4All, an AIDS advocacy group. “This is all too late.”

Vaccine on the way: Health officials have shipped about 600,000 doses of the smallpox vaccine Jynneos, which can also be used against monkeypox. According to CNN, the vaccine had been stored in Denmark, before the CDC ordered it to be packaged in single doses and shipped to U.S. states about three weeks after the first case was reported.

Health clinics in major cities have been administering the vaccine, with an emphasis on reaching gay men, the LGBTQ community and health care workers. One hurdle for the campaign is that the vaccine requires two doses, delivered four weeks apart. Health officials say they are looking into whether a different, more efficient dosing regimen is possible.

Schumer Plans First Vote Saturday on Inflation Reduction Act

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) announced Thursday that Democrats plan to hold the first procedural vote Saturday afternoon on their health care, climate and tax bill.

The legislation, called the Inflation Reduction Act of 2022, is not ready yet. Lawmakers reportedly continue to meet with the Senate parliamentarian to review the bill’s provisions and ensure they meet the special requirements for budget reconciliation, the process Democrats want to use to avoid the threat of a Republican filibuster. Additional meetings with the parliamentarian are reportedly set for Friday.

At the same time, Democrats are still working to lock down the support of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), the centrist holdout who is reportedly seeking to remove the bill’s provision to close the carried-interest loophole, a measure that is projected to raise $14 billion in revenue over 10 years. Sinema reportedly is also looking to add about $5 billion in funding to combat droughts to the package. The Wall Street Journal’s Andrew Duehren reports that aides are also preparing for changes to the bill’s 15% minimum tax on large corporations with profits that top $1 billion.

Schumer’s announcement of an initial procedural vote Saturday afternoon sets a deadline of sorts for Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) to finalize the bill ahead of what promises to be a lengthy floor debate of up to 20 hours followed by a “vote-a-rama,” a series of amendment votes with no set time limit.

The bottom line: Democrats still have some hurdles to clear, but final Senate passage of the Inflation Reduction Act could come as soon as Sunday night.

Former IRS, Treasury Chiefs Say Dem Bill Will Help Catch Wealthy Tax Cheats

“When you under-fund the IRS, it’s just a tax cut for tax cheats.” That’s what former IRS head John Koskinen told The New York Times last year in a discussion about the Biden administration’s plan to beef up the country’s beleaguered tax agency. This week, Koskinen joined with two other former IRS chiefs to express support for Democrats’ Inflation Reduction Act, which includes an additional $80 billion over nine years to enhance enforcement at the IRS.

On Thursday, Koskinen, who led the IRS in the Obama administration, released a joint letter expressing support for the proposed budget plan. He was joined by Fred Goldberg, who led the agency under President George H. W. Bush, and Charles Rossotti, who led the IRS under President Bill Clinton.

The former commissioners said the bill would provide a much-needed boost to the IRS, which “has shrunk to 1970s levels with technological infrastructure that is decades out-of-date and an audit rate that has dropped by 50 percent,” they wrote. “The sustained, multi-year funding contained in the reconciliation package is critical to help the agency rebuild. That will mean vastly improved services for taxpayers, who will be able to interact with a modernized IRS in a digital way, whose questions will be answered and issues resolved promptly and fairly, and who will find it simpler to get access to the benefits and credits to which they are entitled,” the commissioners added.

They also disputed Republican claims that the increased funding would be used by the agency to go after middle-class taxpayers and small businesses. “In fact, for ordinary Americans who already fulfill their tax obligations, audit scrutiny will decline, because the IRS will be better at selecting returns for examination,” they wrote. “This bill is about getting to the heart of the problem and pursuing high-end taxpayers and corporations who today illegally evade their tax obligations.”

Former Treasury secretaries join the chorus: Five former Treasury secretaries from both major parties issued a statement Wednesday expressing support for the Democratic bill.

“This legislation will help increase American competitiveness, address our climate crisis, lower costs for families, and fight inflation—and should be passed immediately by Congress,” said Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Jacob Lew, Tim Geithner and Henry Paulson.

The former secretaries said the bill was “financed by prudent tax policy that will collect more from top earners and large corporations.” And they pushed back against the idea that the bill would raise taxes on middle-class households. “Taxes due or paid will not increase for any family making less than $400,000/year,” they wrote. “And the extra taxes levied on corporations do not reflect increases in the corporate tax rate, but rather the reclaiming of revenue lost to tax avoidance and provisions benefiting the most affluent.”

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