What Happened, What You Missed: February 14-18


Administration Working on New Masking Guidelines

On Wednesday, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters that the administration is working with public health experts and business leaders to updates its pandemic guidance. The guidance will focus on hospitalizations rather than case numbers as metrics for determining when Americans should wear masks indoors.  The announcement comes as many blue states and cities have announced plans to roll back indoor mask requirements without input from the federal government.  In recent weeks, both case numbers and hospitalizations have declined across the nation.  Reports suggest new mask guidance from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) could come as early as next week.

Senate Narrowly Confirms Robert Califf to Lead FDA

On Tuesday, the Senate voted 50-46 to confirm Robert Califf as the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner, clearing the way for the FDA to have a permanent leader in over a year.  The narrow vote comes after senators from both parties raised concerns about Califf’s handling of the opioid epidemic when he led the FDA from 2016 to 2017 as well as his ties to the pharmaceutical industry.  Califf will replace Janet Woodcock, who has served as the FDA’s temporary chief since January 2021 and will remain at FDA as principal deputy commissioner. It is not clear when Califf will officially begin his new role.

Senate Approves Bill to Fund Government through March 11

The Senate voted 65-27 to approve a continuing resolution (CR) on Thursday night to move the government funding deadline to March 11, giving lawmakers three more weeks to hammer out an agreement on a Fiscal Year (FY) 2022 appropriations omnibus.  Earlier in the week, the status of the three-week CR was in doubt after several GOP senators called for votes on controversial amendments to be added to the CR.  Some of the amendments, which only required a simple majority vote, would have prevented the Biden administration from enforcing vaccine mandates and make it harder to raise the debt ceiling.  Any changes to the CR would have forced the measure to go back to the House, which is in the middle of a two-week recess and where Democrats are unlikely to support a bill with any controversial amendments attached.  However, with several Republican senators absent from Washington to attend a security conference in Munich, the amendments failed to garner a majority vote.  President Biden is expected to sign the CR in law later today.

FTC Rejects Probe into Pharmacy Benefit Managers

On Thursday, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) voted 2-2 to defeat a proposed investigation into whether pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) are violating federal anti-competitive regulations.  Three PBMs currently control 80% of the market, and pharmacists and patient advocates have voiced concern for years that PBMs engage in anticompetitive practices that lead to higher drug prices and disadvantage independent or specialty pharmacies.  While the two commissioners who voted against the probe say they aren’t opposed to looking into the role of PBMs, they ultimately voted against the proposed investigation because it wasn’t comprehensive enough and they weren’t provided with sufficient notice of the vote.

ICYMI: The Obamas’ Portraits Go On Tour

In May 2021, the National Portrait Gallery’s portraits of former President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama embarked on a five-city tour that includes an audio-visual element, educational workshops, presentations, and an illustrated book. The portraits were initially supposed to return to Washington this summer, but the Smithsonian has since announced new stops in San Francisco and Boston that will keep the portraits away from Washington until the fall.  Anyone who wants to see the portraits now can view them at Atlanta’s High Art Museum until March 20.

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