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Congress Returns with Government Funding at the Forefront: As both chambers returned to Washington following the holidays, government funding is set to lapse in two separate tranches, with four appropriations bills expiring on Jan. 19 and eight bills expiring on Feb. 2. With less than two weeks before a partial shutdown, Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) and Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reached an agreement on topline spending levels for Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 appropriations over the weekend. The agreement largely maintains the spending levels outlined in the Fiscal Responsibility Act while including $16 billion in additional cuts. The funding cuts are spread between $6.1 billion in rescinded COVID-19 aid funds and $10 billion in expedited Internal Revenue Service (IRS) funding cuts. The bipartisan agreement reduces the likelihood of a partial government shutdown occurring on Jan. 19. However, it is extremely unlikely that Congress will pass full-year appropriations for the four expiring bills by Jan. 19 due to the shortened timeline, leaving a Continuing Resolution (CR) as the most likely route to avoiding a partial government shutdown.

Senate HELP Committee Democrats Launch Investigation Into Prices of Asthma Inhalers: On Monday, Jan. 8, Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM) and Ed Markey (D-MA) sent letters to the CEOs of four pharmaceutical companies to launch an investigation into efforts to manipulate the prices of asthma inhalers. The senators noted that the companies charge extremely high prices for inhalers that over 25 million Americans with asthma and 16 million Americans with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) rely on. The letters added that the inhalers cost between $200 and $600 each for inhaler products that are purchased monthly, and stressed that patients, especially the uninsured and underinsured, are compelled to ration or abandon their prescriptions, leading to predictable and devastating health outcomes and individuals with asthma and COPD. The letters sent to the pharmaceutical companies request detailed information on internal decisions safeguarding inhalers from competition and enabling substantial revenue gains. The investigation builds on the Senate HELP Committee’s ongoing efforts to ensure pharmaceutical companies prioritize affordable access to life-saving medicines.

Tax Bill Update: Package Deal Remains Contentious: According to sources familiar with negotiations, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-MO) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-OR) have reached a framework for a tax package that would restore three expired business tax provisions from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (Pub. L. 115-97), along with a partial expansion of the Child Tax Credit and potential incentives for low-income housing.

State Dept. Launches H-1B Domestic Visa Renewal Pilot Program: Beginning Jan. 29, certain H-1B visa holders can apply to the State Department for visa renewals without needing to leave the country. According to a Dec. 21 Federal Register notice, the Biden administration has greenlit a pilot program allowing domestic renewals for the occupation-based visa program. The new program will serve as a means to alleviate long wait times for H-1B visa holders and the effects their elongated renewal processes would otherwise have on employers hiring H-1B workers—especially in the domestic technology industry. Since 2004, H-1B visa holders had been required to return to their home countries to apply for renewals due to issues concerning biometric requirements mandated by post-9/11 security measures.

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