Jan. 10 Federal Policy Update: Senate Considers Voting Rights Reform
Last week, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced his goal to pass two voting rights bills called the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act before Jan. 17, Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The bills would expand access to the ballot box, prevent interference with election administration, and modernize the federal voting system, and reinstitute voting rights protections gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. With all Republicans in the Senate opposed, the bills have little chance of passing unless the Senate votes on a rule change that weakens the 60-vote threshold known as the filibuster, allowing a simple majority of 50 senators to pass a bill. Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), two must-need votes for Democrats, continue to express skepticism of eliminating the filibuster, though the former has publicly stated he is in discussions with members on both sides of the aisle about rules changes.
In the background of these negotiations is the one-year anniversary of the Capitol insurrection attempting to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Many Democrats argue that the Freedom to Vote Act would shore up elections and increase faith in the democratic process. As a compromise, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has floated the idea of reforming the Electoral Count Act. So far, Schumer has written off McConnell’s overture, arguing that changing the Electoral Count Act is insufficient to confront the many challenges the election system faces.
Meanwhile, Congress and the administration remain stalled in negotiations over the Build Back Better Act. These efforts halted in December when negotiations between Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) and President Biden broke down. Manchin’s vote is needed to pass the legislation. Meanwhile, several tax provisions expired at the end of 2021, including the expanded Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit enhanced benefits, and the Universal Charitable Deduction for non-itemizers. It is unclear what the path forward will look like, but the recent omicron variant spike is reinvigorating some bipartisan conversations around targeted relief provisions.
Supreme Court to Hear Vaccination Requirement Cases
The U.S. Supreme Court began hearing oral arguments last Friday concerning the legality of the Biden administration’s vaccination requirements in millions of organizations. At issue are the OSHA emergency temporary standard affecting employers with 100 or more employees and a rule from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services applicable to staff of employers receiving payments from the federal health care programs.
States and businesses have filed lawsuits in every federal circuit court challenging the authority of the federal government to mandate vaccinations or ongoing testing. Many courts acting on the cases have stayed enforcement of the requirements. However, on Dec. 15 a panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the stay in a consolidated case, setting the stage for consideration by the Supreme Court this week. Employers are hoping for a quick resolution by the court because OSHA enforcement is slated to begin as early as Monday, Jan. 10.
ACA Enrollment Soars Due to American Rescue Plan
The Department of Health and Human Services announced that 13.6 million people have enrolled in health insurance coverage for 2022 through Affordable Care Act exchanges, an all-time record for signups. The American Rescue Plan (ARP), passed in March 2021, made premiums more affordable by expanding subsidies for covered plans. As a result, 92% of signups will receive premium tax credits to help with monthly payments. The policy changes under the ARP allowed 400,000 people to enroll who would otherwise have not been able. Families still have time to enroll during the special enrollment period, which lasts until Jan. 15, 2022. Over 1,500 certified navigators are available throughout the country to walk consumers through the enrollment process.
No Surprises Act Takes Effect
On Jan. 1, 2022, consumers gained financial protection from surprise health care bills from emergency rooms visits, elective surgeries, and hospital births. Before, consumers in the private insurance marketplace were subject to surprise medical bills from out-of-network providers, facilities, and air ambulance providers. The No Surprises Act bans surprise bills for emergency care as well as for elective procedures performed by certain out-of-network providers in in-network hospitals. It requires providers to charge in-network rates for these types of visits and to provide patients with transparent information regarding their billing protections. For uninsured patients, providers are required to provide a “good faith estimate” of costs before providing non-emergency care.
Senate Hearing on Economic Development in Underserved Communities
On Jan. 5, 2022, the Senate Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development held the hearing, “Exploring How Community Development Financial Institutions Support Underserved Communities.” The hearing covered the topic of tackling economic disparities through expanded financial services and capital investment in communities of color, Tribal lands, and rural communities. In particular, the hearing addressed two bills, the CDFI Bond Guarantee Program Improvement Act and the Native American Rural Homeownership Improvement Act, cosponsored by Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.). The first bill would allow Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFI) to access long-term, secure funding to invest in underserved areas. The second bill would help native communities increase home ownership with expanded access to mortgages.