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NotedDC — Baby formula shortage hits home for lawmakers

Greg Nash

A national baby formula shortage is leaving a number of parents — including some lawmakers on Capitol Hill — scrambling to find a way to feed their babies.

“The cost of it has certainly gone up and the availability has kind of forced us online,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a father of three young children, including one born this past November, told NotedDC.

“Globally, there are supply-chain challenges and FDA approval issues have also affected it,” he said, adding members who are parents of young children can help educate colleagues who aren’t personally affected by the shortage.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), another parent to a newborn, called it a “life-or-death” situation since some children with medical conditions need specialty formula.

“I can think of a no more harrowing crisis for parents as they are desperately trying to find access to baby formula,” Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), who is a mom of a 9-month-old son, said Wednesday on Fox News.

Stefanik said she is lucky her son doesn’t need a special type of formula, adding, “The shelves have been fairly empty in upstate New York and I’m hearing from parents all across America. We are demanding action.”

What to watch: House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) has planned an oversight hearing on the topic for later this month. 

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House staffers to unionize 

House staffers who have demanded better working conditions celebrated after the chamber on Tuesday night passed a resolution granting them the right to unionize. 

The Congressional Workers Union, formed in February, said in a statement that the move allows them to “bargain collectively without fear of retaliation.” 

Bill sponsor Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) also told NotedDC that staffers “finding their collective voice can be a powerful tool for racial justice on the Hill,” noting the lack of diversity in certain offices.

Here’s how the process would work: 

  1. Bargaining units — a group of workers represented by a union — will likely be formed on an office-by-office basis, and by majority and minority committees, according to Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress.
  2. After staffers reach 30 percent support in their unit, a vote would be held. If a majority is in favor, the unit could begin negotiations over a contract (Schuman noted multiple units could be under the same bargaining agreement).
  3. Policies such as better overtime, a pay floor and requirements for sick and paternal leaves could be negotiated, with Schuman adding that a deal for staffers whose pay isn’t set by law could still be brokered.

Capitol on track for reopening

The Capitol is on track to enter the next phase of its public reopening by the end of the month, Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson told lawmakers on Wednesday.

  • This will signal the return of some operations at the Capitol Visitor Center and possibly allowing larger-size school groups and other parties, Gibson said.
  • However, the Senate executive officer stressed that security concerns remain a potential hurdle.

Refresher: The Capitol Complex was closed to the public for two years amid safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic. Small, staff-led tours resumed starting March 28, and Gibson said the Office of the Attending Physician is still exploring how many people to allow on tours for the second reopening phase, slated for May 30.

The goal, as set out by lawmakers, is to return to pre-COVID-19 visitor operations by Labor Day. People who wish to tour the Capitol are advised to contact their member of Congress.

“I, too, am eager to reopen the Capitol in the way that it was before the pandemic and share the beauty and history of this building with the American public and foreign visitors, as well.” – Senate Sergeant at Arms Karen Gibson said during a Senate hearing

Personnel struggles: Gibson said Wednesday that “the limiting factor right now is not COVID-related, but an insufficient number of uniformed police officers to man the many positions associated with the Capitol Visitor Center.”

The Capitol Police force has shed many officers due to a variety of factors, she said: COVID-19 concerns; security and health concerns following the Jan. 6, 2021, attack; and general attrition and retirements. Gibson also noted training and recruitment opportunities for new officers had been constrained because of the pandemic.

This week, the Capitol began supplanting its personnel by bringing on contract security guards for places considered secondary to the Capitol complex, including the Library of Congress, the Botanic Gardens and parking garages, Gibson said. 

House races toward Memorial break

The House has just a week before breaking for Memorial Day, which typically marks a shift away from full-time legislating and toward campaigning in home districts.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told The Hill and reporters from other outlets Wednesday that lawmakers have their sights on several bills before leaving town.

  • The House will likely take up bipartisan legislation to update the poverty-combatting Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) program before this week’s end, Hoyer said. “It’s very important for local governments, and they use that for a lot of different projects.”
  • They also plan to take up bills that would address issues specific to firefighters’ health and benefits for Transportation Safety Administration employees. 
  • Heading into next week, the chamber will work on legislation updating the Workforce Innovation Opportunity Act and legislation that aims to address price gouging and supply chain issues, Hoyer said.

MONEY MOVES

Freshman Rep. Julia Letlow (R-La.) has been tapped to fill an opening on the powerful House Appropriations Committee. The highly-coveted seat became vacant in October when then-Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb.) left the panel. Fortenberry resigned from Congress last month after a felony conviction for lying to the FBI about campaign contributions.

BACKGROUND ON LETLOW: Letlow, 41, took office last spring, becoming the first Republican woman to represent Louisiana in Congress. She won a special election to succeed her late husband, Luke Letlow, who was previously elected to represent Louisiana’s 5th District in November 2020 but died of COVID-19 complications days before he was set to be sworn in.

According to her office, Julia Letlow will serve on 1) the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies, and 2) the Subcommittee on State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs. 

Psaki’s memorable moments

Before press secretary Jen Psaki says goodbye to the White House on Friday, she told In The Know’s Judy Kurtz her funniest moments in the briefing room.

“Someone once asked me if I would commit not to euthanize the dog — as in the president’s dog,” Psaki said. “I don’t know if it was a serious question from that person.”

She said the question came after President Biden’s dog, Major, bit someone at the White House.

Deputy press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre is poised to take Psaki’s place at the podium beginning next week.

NUMBER TO KNOW

57

The number of Republicans who voted against $40 billion in aid to Ukraine. Some Republicans who opposed the bill said it would’ve added too much to the national debt. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) called it “a massive slush fund that goes to the State Department.” 

One last thing: Perfect streak broken

Former President Trump had a perfect record endorsing dozens of candidates in Senate, House and gubernatorial primaries this year. That came to an end Tuesday.

University of Nebraska Regent Jim Pillen beat Trump-backed businessman Charles Herbster in the GOP primary in the race to become Nebraska’s next governor. 

Read Tal Axelrod’s five takeaways from the Nebraska and West Virginia primaries.

Stay with TheHill.com for the latest and recommend NotedDC to others: thehill.com/noted. See you tomorrow.

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Tags Adam Kinzinger baby formula Capitol tours Elise Stefanik Eric Swalwell Trump endorsements unionization

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