Policy

On The Money — Senate takes step to curb baby formula shortage

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Both chambers of Congress are passing bills to help families access baby formula, but which ones will make it to President Biden?  We’ll also look at a House bill to limit how much you’re paying for gasoline and Ukraine aid getting through the Senate.  

But first, a new infectious disease outbreak just dropped. 

Welcome to On The Money, your nightly guide to everything affecting your bills, bank account and bottom line. For The Hill, we’re Sylvan Lane, Aris Folley and Karl Evers-Hillstrom. Someone forward you this newsletter? Subscribe here.

Senate passes bill to expand infant formula access 

Legislation that aims to protect low-income families from infant formula shortages passed the Senate by unanimous consent on Thursday. 

The Access to Baby Formula Act passed the House late Wednesday on a rare bipartisan vote of 414-9, and now heads to President Biden’s desk for his signature. 

“It’s rare that we have unanimity in the Senate on important measures, and I wish we had more. But this is one of those important issues, and I am glad we are acting with one voice,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor.

  • Each state awards a sole-source contract to a formula manufacturer to provide its product to WIC participants. As a result, WIC participants can only redeem their WIC voucher for formula made by the manufacturer that holds the contract for that state. 
  • WIC benefits restrict the types of formulas that recipients can buy, as part of the program’s contracting rules. Abbott Nutrition is one of just two companies that serve nearly 90 percent of all infants in the program. 
  • The bill would allow the Department of Agriculture to waive WIC’s contract restrictions during emergencies, disasters and supply chain disruptions, meaning families would be able to use WIC benefits to purchase whatever formula is available. 

“The step we are taking today is going to add flexibility and relief to WIC beneficiaries, and almost half of all baby formula consumed in the U.S. is by WIC beneficiaries. Now millions of parents will have an easier time finding the baby formula they need,” Schumer said. 

But the fate of a separate House bill to provide the Food and Drug Administration $28 million in emergency funding is uncertain. That legislation passed the House 231-192, but GOP senators have expressed wariness about spending the money. 

Read more here from The Hill’s Nathaniel Weixel. 

TARGETING BIG OIL  

The House voted Thursday to pass Democrats’ bill aimed at combating “price gouging” on gasoline. 

The bill passed 217-207, with no Republicans voting for it and four Democrats voting against it: Reps. Stephanie Murphy (Fla.), Lizzie Fletcher (Texas), Kathleen Rice (N.Y.) and Jared Golden (Maine). 

The legislation is unlikely to gain traction in the Senate, where it would need the support of 10 Republicans to advance, but it’s part of a major messaging push by Democrats as they try to blame the oil industry for skyrocketing prices.  

  • The bill would outlaw the selling of fuel at an “excessive” price during an energy emergency, though it does not detail any particular price threshold. 
  • It would empower the Federal Trade Commission to pursue legal action if instances of price gouging are discovered. 
  • The bill’s passage comes as gas prices, which have skyrocketed following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, hit new highs this week, averaging about $4.59 on Thursday. 

The Hill’s Rachel Frazin has more here

HELP IS ON THE WAY 

Senate passes $40 billion Ukraine aid package 

The Senate voted 86-11 Thursday to approve a $40 billion Ukraine aid package that would replenish U.S. stockpiles of weapons transferred to Ukraine and provide billions of dollars to help the Ukrainian government continue operating and for humanitarian assistance.   

President Biden is expected to sign the legislation, which exceeds his $33 billion request to Congress, immediately. The House passed the legislation overwhelmingly earlier this month in a 368-57 vote.  

  • The legislation would authorize the transfer of American weapons and equipment to Ukraine and provide $9 billion to replenish depleted U.S. weapons stockpiles and $6 billion in training, equipment, weapons and logistics to Ukraine’s military and national security forces.   
  • It would also provide nearly $8.8 billion for continued operations of the Ukrainian government and counter human trafficking, $5 billion in global food aid, $4.35 billion in international disaster assistance and $900 million in refugee support services.    

Eleven Republican senators led by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) voted against the measure.   

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton breaks it down here

NO RESTAURANT RELIEF   

Senate blocks $48 billion aid package for restaurants, other small businesses 

The Senate on Thursday blocked a bipartisan bill to provide $48 billion to restaurants, gyms and other small businesses hit particularly hard by the pandemic.  

Senators voted 52-43 to hold a vote on the bill, falling short of the 60-vote threshold needed to move forward. Just five GOP senators voted for the motion to proceed, with the bill’s opponents citing its impact on the federal deficit and inflation. 

  • The vote likely spells doom for the bill, which was crafted by Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.) as a way to help struggling small businesses get out of debt accrued during the pandemic.  
  • The bill would have provided $40 billion for restaurants and $8 billion for gyms and fitness facilities, live event companies, bus and ferry operators and other hard-hit businesses. 

“Well, this was our best shot. Make no mistake about it, we’re disappointed that we weren’t able to get it done,” Cardin told reporters after the vote. 

Karl has more here

Good to Know

A new report from the government’s internal watchdog found that richer taxpayers are benefitting the most from a broader decline in audit rates by the IRS, adding impetus to criticism that the U.S. tax system favors the wealthy, and possibly bolstering a White House push to increase taxes on the wealthy. 

Here’s what else we have our eye on: 

  • A bipartisan group of senators on Thursday introduced legislation that would force Google to break up its digital advertising business
  • Twitter on Thursday announced a new approach to how it handles misinformation during crisis situations aimed more aggressively at targeting false allegations. 
  • Americans with homes that are repeatedly flooded by extreme weather events could soon have the federal government buy their houses under a new bill introduced Thursday by Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.). 

That’s it for today. Thanks for reading and check out The Hill’s Finance page for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow. 

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