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Week in Washington: The Year Ahead
Here at Week in Washington, we thought it was worthwhile to examine potential key storylines to watch in 2021. All of the below is the opinion of Michael Cohen.
The election in Georgia has resulted in Democrats controlling both houses of Congress as well as the Presidency. As Katie Keith lays out, President Biden and allies in Congress will have large decisions as to what kind of legislative agenda to pursue over the next two years. The small majorities in both the House and Senate (as well as the filibuster) will limit the realm of policy options (for example, Medicare for all is off the table) but incremental health care policy changes and additional COVID relief (especially via a legislative tool known as budget reconciliation) is a distinct possibility. Many observers are expecting at least some initial legislative package to be voted on in the first 100 days.
Alongside potential legislative changes, a new Biden Administration will attempt to make changes to the previous Administration’s regulations. For example, Larry Levitt expects a number of Administrative actions, most notably on changing policy through CMMI demonstrations or 1115/1332 Waivers.
One of the central questions of 2021 is if/when the effects of the COVID pandemic will recede. Vaccinations are expected to be a crucial part of the return to normalcy. As of writing this, 5.9 million people have received the first dose of the vaccine, with 21.4 million doses distributed. The pace of vaccinations will need to significantly increase for herd immunity to be reached this year.
Unfortunately, the pandemic continues to hit new highs, with over 130,000 people hospitalized in the US due to COVID currently and over 350,000 dead from the disease. A recent discovery that a more contagious mutation of COVID-19 is circulating in the US could cause further strain and havoc. An open question for 2021 is how severe the pandemic will be.
The Supreme Court will hear numerous cases this year with health care implications, although none as important as California v. Texas, which will determine if the ACA remains the law of the land. While most experts expect the ACA to survive the challenge, there is no guarantee. The Supreme Court is expected to release its ruling on the case in late spring.
Last month the previous improvements in the US unemployment rates stalled. The US is currently about 11.5 million jobs short of the pre-pandemic trend. It will be an open question as to how quickly and even if, the US economy can recover in 2021.
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