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Court security funding stripped in House

Revised bill would allow coronavirus vaccines to be covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program

Police officers arrange barricades behind riot fencing around the Supreme Court on May 5.
Police officers arrange barricades behind riot fencing around the Supreme Court on May 5. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Corrected July 11 | The House struck the content of a Senate-passed Supreme Court security emergency spending bill Friday and replaced it with a pandemic-related amendment, ensuring the legislation will not go to President Joe Biden’s desk this week even as the high court handed down its expected opinion overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The Senate earlier this week stripped the contents of a spending bill that came over from the House last year and replaced it with the text of a $19.4 million package drafted by Sens. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., and Mark Warner, D-Va. The Senate passed the amended bill by unanimous consent.

House leaders decided to include it in the rule for floor debate Friday on unrelated bills, including the gun violence, school security and mental health legislation that later cleared for Biden’s signature in the wake of recent deadly mass shootings in Texas and elsewhere. The rule was adopted on a 217-203 vote, with the underlying court security measure “deemed” to have passed the House without a separate vote.

But there was a twist: House leaders amended the text by tacking on unrelated provisions dealing with COVID-19 vaccines and insulin prices — and without the emergency funds for court security. That means the court security measure needs to go back to the Senate for negotiations before reaching Biden’s desk, and the Senate recessed Thursday night for two weeks other than for pro forma sessions.

“This is a dangerous and appalling dereliction of the basic duties of Congress by House Democrats,” Hagerty spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement. “They are rejecting a simple, noncontroversial, bipartisan, and much-needed funding bill for security of the nine justices of the Supreme Court and their families and the law enforcement officers who protect them.”

Vaccine compensation fund

The biggest change to the Senate-passed text would allow COVID-19 vaccines to be covered under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program if the Health and Human Services secretary agrees. COVID-19 vaccine sales would be subject to the 75-cent excise tax on each dose recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that is covered by the program, which pays out compensation for vaccine-related injuries or deaths.

Adding COVID-19 vaccines to the list of those covered by the excise tax would boost revenue into the compensation fund by $732 million over a decade, the Joint Committee on Taxation estimated Friday.

The provision has bipartisan support and is based on bipartisan legislation co-authored by House Ways and Means Health Subcommittee Chair Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, and Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa. Their bill is broader and would automatically impose the excise tax on any new vaccine added to the list of those covered by the HHS vaccine compensation program.

The vaccine fund currently has a balance of $4.3 billion, but advocates say it’s overburdened. COVID-19 vaccines are currently covered by a separate “countermeasures” program for emergency measures that relies on annual appropriations instead of its own dedicated funding source. It also has some disadvantages compared to vaccines covered under the regular compensation program, such as not covering attorney fees.

A similar Senate bill on vaccine excise taxes and eligibility for the compensation program has bipartisan support in that chamber.

The House also added to the bill nonbinding “sense of Congress” language expressing concern over the high cost of insulin, a possible placeholder for separate legislation to lower insulin prices and cap monthly copays. That measure also enjoys bipartisan support.

But with the Senate gone, there’s little chance of sending the court security funding measure to Biden’s desk until sometime in July.

The security of Supreme Court justices gained increased attention in the run-up to the court’s Friday ruling overturning the nationwide right to abortion.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland deployed U.S. marshals to provide around-the-clock protection of justices following the May leak of the draft decision in the case, and an armed man was arrested outside of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s house earlier this month.

The Senate-passed legislation would provide $10.3 million to the U.S. Marshals Service and $9.1 million to the Supreme Court for this fiscal year to pay for unexpected security costs.

Hagerty and Warner urged House leadership in a Thursday letter to pass the legislation before adjourning this week.

“If Congress does not immediately provide this funding, the Court and Marshals Service will have to transfer funds from other critical functions and entities, like the U.S. Districts Courts and U.S. Courts of Appeals,” Hagerty and Warner wrote.

The funding for the Marshals Service will cover the costs of providing around-the-clock security at the houses of the justices and the funding for the court will pay for overtime for Supreme Court Police officers, mutual-aid payments to assisting agencies and increasing physical security around the court’s building, according to the letter.

The Supreme Court Police are responsible for the security of the court, with the U.S. Marshals Service providing assistance when requested to do so by the Supreme Court marshal.

Lindsey McPherson and Peter Cohn contributed to this report.

This report has been corrected to reflect that the House stripped out the underlying Senate-passed bill’s emergency court security funding.

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