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Congress Averts a Shutdown Yet Again: Following intense negotiations and a high-profile White House meeting early this week, congressional leaders and appropriators came to an agreement to avoid a partial government shutdown. The agreement contains a short-term continuing resolution (CR) and a framework to pass all 12 Fiscal Year (FY) 2024 appropriations bills. Under the CR, the deadline for the Transportation-HUD, Interior, Energy and Water, Milcon-VA, Agriculture and Commerce-Justice-Science bills will now be extended to March 8. The remaining six bills will be extended until March 22 to provide congressional leaders with additional time to strike a deal on some of the more contentious appropriations bills, including funding for the Department of Defense (DOD), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and others. On Thursday afternoon, the House voted to advance the CR under suspension of the rules (320-99), with objections from House Freedom Caucus conservatives. The Senate moved to pass the measure Thursday evening on a bipartisan basis (77-13), sending the bill to President Biden. Additionally, both chambers passed a short-term extension of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) until May 10. Appropriators have signaled that the text for the first tranche of bills may be released as early as this weekend after last-minute holdups are resolved. The House and Senate are both scheduled to return next Tuesday.

House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health Holds Legislative Hearing on Rare Diseases: On Thursday, Feb. 29, the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee convened a hearing titled “Legislative Proposals to Support Patients with Rare Diseases,” where they discussed crucial bills such as the MINI Act, ORPHAN Cures Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, alongside bills to address pediatric cancer and access to care. Subcommittee Chair Brett Guthrie (R-KY) highlighted the challenges rare disease patients encounter in accessing treatments. He emphasized the importance of ensuring coverage for treatments under Medicare and bolstering existing incentives. Subcommittee Ranking Member Anna Eshoo (D-CA) outlined several bills aimed at assisting Americans living with rare diseases and emphasized the need for diversity in clinical trials, especially concerning pediatric drugs. Full Committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) stressed the necessity of promoting innovation for rare diseases and emphasized the importance of ensuring accessibility to novel therapies. Full Committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) expressed concerns regarding proposals undermining prescription drug prices and emphasized the need to incentivize development while understanding the unique needs of rare disease communities. The hearing highlighted bipartisan efforts to address the complexities surrounding rare diseases and access to care.

Tax Bill Update—Potential Paths to Passage: While Congress continues to negotiate on appropriations, the Tax Relief for American Families and Workers Act (H.R. 7024) is stalled in the Senate, as the Senate Republicans discuss various provisions of the bill, including the child tax credit’s perceived lack of work incentives and whether limitations on the employee retention tax credit should be treated as an offset for budgetary purposes. Despite the temporary standstill, there remain viable paths for the bill to pass the Senate, including inclusion of the tax package in a larger spending bill, or taking up the bill as a stand-alone measure with an agreement on any amendments and debate time. If the bill is passed without amendment, it would head to the White House, where President Biden is expected to sign it. On Feb. 28, Finance Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) released a public statement on the status of package negotiations, reaffirming that he is “committed to seeking a bipartisan resolution that a majority of Senate Republicans can support,” with subsequent comments suggesting that a compromise may include changes to the core provisions in the package as well as additional member priorities.

Biden Administration Considering Taking Executive Actions on Border Policies: According to recent media reports, President Joe Biden is considering implementing an array of policies to address the situation on the southern border via executive action. The reports indicate that Biden’s considerations are prompted by Congress’ failure thus far to pass border reforms as part of a national security supplemental package. It is also likely that political considerations—namely the negative attention the border situation has wrought on Biden and Democrats—also play a factor, ahead of November’s elections.

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