During President Biden’s first State of the Union Address, it was the Russian invasion of Ukraine that drew the most attention. The President and Democrats in Congress are attempting to balance aid to Ukraine and sanctions on Russia with their desire to pass at least some pieces of their domestic agenda. While Ukraine, inflation and COVID were all areas of focus during the speech, the President did not mention Build Back Better by name. The President instead chose to discuss individual policy areas of his signature domestic legislation, including proposed funding for home and long-term care, signaling that any attempt to pass policy from Build Back Better will have to move as a smaller package.
One new policy that received only passing mention during the speech, but which would have a far-reaching impact is the slate of reforms for skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. One major effect of the policy would be to set minimum staffing requirements for SNFs. While providers share the Administration’s goal of improving operations at SNFs, they are extremely concerned that imposing this requirement without also providing the funding to address the workforce crisis will only worsen the issue.
The State of the Union was the focus for the week, but other major developments included:
- The response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine: The U.S. and its allies have continued to implement unprecedented sanctions on Russia. The invasion has unified most Democrats and Republicans, at least for now, with Congress debating a boost in both humanitarian and military aid for Ukraine and further sanctions on Russia. President Biden continues to make clear that American troops will not intervene unless a member of NATO is attacked.
- The Senate failed in a 46-48 vote to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act, which would have guaranteed the right to access and perform an abortion. The House passed the bill in September in a close 218-211 vote.
- The Senate resumed consideration of the bipartisan Postal Reform Act, which would overhaul the US Postal Service’s finances and modernize its services. The House passed the legislation in February by a vote of 342-92.
- On Wednesday, the Senate passed a resolution to overturn President Biden’s vaccine mandate for health care workers in a 49-44 vote. No Democrats supported the measure, but Republicans were able to pass it due to several absences on the Democratic side. However, the resolution faces steeps odds in the House and would likely be vetoed by President Biden.