Congress Acts to Avert Freight Rail Strike: Congress passed a bill this week to implement the terms of a contract between freight rail carriers and workers, averting a nationwide rail strike next week that would have kept one-third of U.S. cargo from being transported and cost the economy $2 billion per day. The House passed H.J.Res.100 by a 290-137 vote on Wednesday, and the Senate then passed the bill by a vote of 80-15 on Thursday. The bill now goes to President Biden for his signature. This action marks the first time Congress has directly intervened in rail negotiations since 1992.
Potential End-of-Year Health Care Items: Health care items that are likely to move in an omnibus include some mitigation of physician fee cuts, though the extent of the relief remains uncertain; Medicare extenders for two or three years; longer-term extensions for the low-volume hospitals (LVH) and Medicare-dependent hospitals (MDH) programs; waiving the effects of the 4% PAYGO sequester on Medicare; and territory FMAP reauthorization. Some potential, though less certain, items for an omnibus include a clean telehealth extension prior authorization legislation (H.R.3173); FDA user fee riders, like clinical trial diversity, that were left out of the September CR; legislation capping insulin costs under commercial insurance plans, which is a top priority for Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) but faces vocal opposition from Rep. Kevin Hern (R-OK); antibiotic legislation (PASTEUR Act); health care cybersecurity legislation (S.3904) and some mental health provisions, although CBO recently scored the Ways and Means Committee’s mental health package at $1.8 billion over 10 years, making it less likely to be included.
Retirement Reform Likely in the Lame Duck: Though lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for several tax proposals in the lame duck, retirement legislation remains the most bipartisan proposal under consideration for a year-end tax deal. Even if an agreement on the other tax provisions falls apart, retirement savings could still be attached to a potential omnibus.
Changes Afoot for House and Senate Homeland Security Committees in the Next Congress: With Republicans capturing a majority in the recent midterms, the work of the House Homeland Security Committee is poised for a significant—and potentially more ideological—shift under GOP leadership. However, it is not yet clear who will chair the committee. The race is between three members: Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX), Mark Green (R-TN) and Clay Higgins (R-LA).
Energy, Environment and Natural Resources
BOEM Announces Alaska Oil and Gas Lease Sale: The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) announced Monday that it will hold an oil and gas lease sale for blocks located in the Cook Inlet Planning Area off the coast of Alaska on Dec. 30, 2022. The decision was made in compliance with the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which requires the Department of the Interior (DOI) to hold Cook Inlet Lease Sale 258 on or before Dec. 31, 2022. The sale will offer 193 unleased blocks covering approximately 958,202 acres in Cook Inlet. DOI issued a Record of Decision (ROD) on the sale, which noted that holding the lease sale provides an opportunity to address national and regional demand for domestic energy resources and to create economic benefits through oil and gas exploration and development in the federal waters of Cook Inlet.
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