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Democrats are launching a last-minute attack: GOP wants to cut entitlements


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Helloo, welcome to Nov. 1, known as the best day to eat leftover Halloween candy. I’m partial to anything with chocolate. Send thoughts on your faves to rachel.roubein@washpost.com.

Today’s edition: Pfizer says its RSV vaccine given during pregnancy protected young infants from developing severe symptoms. The Food and Drug Administration is expressing concern over providers offering medication abortion pills before pregnancy. But first …

Democratic candidates are talking a little less about abortion and little more about Medicare and Social Security

Democrats have a new closing argument in the midterm elections: Republicans are a threat to Medicare and Social Security.

It’s an attack President Biden will deploy in remarks in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., today, just a week before Americans head to the polls on Election Day. 

Democrats have begun shifting some ad resources away from abortion in a bid to appeal to undecided voters who haven’t been moved by the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. They’re focusing more on entitlement benefits, as Republicans hammer Democrats on inflation and crime, our colleague Hannah Knowles reports. Other data points from her story: 

  • The share of Democratic ads mentioning abortion has ticked down 10 percentage points from its peak of close to 50 percent in early October, according to AdImpact, which tracks commercials.
  • Over the past few weeks, Democratic candidates in tight races have been talking more about Medicare and Social Security, per an analysis of social media posts, newsletters and TV ads.

The messaging recalibration comes as Republicans have become increasingly confident they’ll retake the House. The battle to control the narrowly divided Senate appears to be a true toss-up.

The notion of cutting or ending Social Security and Medicare crops up frequently during election cycles with Democrats believing it’s a salient message for attempting to sway older voters.

“Politically, it’s not realistic to believe that that’s going to happen,” said G. William Hoagland, a senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center, who worked for former Senate majority leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). “I do hope that responsible members of Congress recognize that the programs do need reform if they are to maintain their benefits for future generations.”

Here’s a look at what Republicans have said:

In September, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) formally rolled out his campaign season agenda, dubbed “Commitment to America.” The blueprint was vague on Social Security and Medicare, simply saying the party would “save and strengthen” the two popular federal entitlement programs. 

But the Republican Study Committee, a large caucus of conservative House Republicans, put out a more detailed blueprint of how it’d change Medicare earlier this year. The RSC’s 122-page budget contains several changes to Medicare that would be contentious. This includes …

  • Increasing the Medicare eligibility age to 67 and then indexing the changes to life expectancy.
  • Expanding site neutral payments so that Medicare pays providers the same rate no matter if they’re located in a hospital outpatient department or a physicians’ office.
  • Combining parts of traditional Medicare into a “fed plan,” and giving seniors premiums to buy that plan or a private one
  • Repealing federal subsidies for so-called “bad debt,” which is meant to reimburse providers when their Medicare patients don’t pay what they owe out of pocket.

Both Medicare and Social Security are facing future insolvency, and some experts — including Hoagland — are urging Congress to consider changes to the program to stave off a financial headache, such as upping the Medicare eligibility age. But, they acknowledge, doing so would be perilous politically. 

Meanwhile, across the Capitol, Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) rolled out an 11-point plan that included sunsetting federal programs after five years, meaning Congress would need to renew programs like Medicare and Social Security. 

The Post’s Fact Checker, Glenn Kessler, gave Four Pinocchios to a claim from Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that Senate Republicans would end Social Security and Medicare if they win control of the chamber. “The presumptive Senate Republican leader explicitly rejected the idea,” he wrote in September, and said Murray would have been on more solid ground if she’d specifically described the changes in proposals from Scott and others, as Biden had recently done.

There’s at least one major battle looming this winter: Congress will need to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling, which would let the government borrow money to pay for spending that’s already been agreed upon. 

While some Republicans favor brinkmanship over Medicare and Social Security changes amid the debt-ceiling negotiations, some aides and analysts think the GOP may be more likely to push for changes to other Democratic priorities, The Post’s Jeff Stein and Marianna Sotomayor reported last week.

The issue made headlines earlier this month when McCarthy left open the possibility of pushing for Medicare and Social Security changes when Congress authorizes an increase to the debt ceiling in an interview with Punchbowl News. He then quickly stressed to CNBC that he never specifically mentioned those programs.

Mehmet’s Oz’s medical research was rejected in 2003, resulting in 2-year ban

In 2003, Mehmet Oz’s research was slated to kick off a session at the American Association for Thoracic Surgery (AATS) conference. But Oz had to withdraw his work over questions about the strength of the data the cardiothoracic surgeon used, and was banned from presenting research at the organization for two years, our colleagues Lenny Bernstein and Colby Itkowitz report this morning.

Oz is the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in Pennsylvania and has made his medical career a centerpiece of his campaign. An expert not involved in the dispute called the penalty a significant one. There wasn’t any hint of fraud or fabrication of data, but rather the notion of drawing conclusions from a small patient population.

The view from the campaign: Brittany Yanick, an Oz spokesperson, acknowledged in an email to Lenny and Colby that he was “instructed to avoid submitting another abstract for each of the next two annual meetings” after what she called “an academic disagreement amongst researchers.” She wrote that “there were no long term consequences” and that the now-candidate is in good standing with the AATS.

Pfizer says its RSV vaccine protects infants from severe illness

New this a.m.: Pfizer announced that its maternal RSV vaccine, given during pregnancy, protected infants from developing severe symptoms during the first six months, a critical window of vulnerability when many babies end up in the hospital, our colleague Carolyn Y. Johnson writes. 

The company plans to apply for approval of the vaccine before the end of the year, with hope that the first-of-its-kind shot could be available to protect infants against the virus as soon as next winter. The announcement offers a glimmer of hope in the middle of a brutal and early RSV season that has contributed to the wave of respiratory illness that is overwhelming many pediatric hospitals nationwide.

By-the-numbers: The vaccine, given early in the third trimester, was 69 percent effective in preventing severe cases of illness that required medical attention over six months. It was more effective within the first three months, probably due to antibody levels that naturally wane over time. The data has yet to be published or peer reviewed.

Key context: Most people infected with RSV experience it as common cold-like symptoms, but the virus can be life-threatening to infants and young children. Antibodies are passed down to the infant during pregnancy, meaning maternal vaccination is a way of giving a temporary, but immediate, shield of immune protection. The method is also used for influenza, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

FDA takes a stand against prescribing medication abortion before pregnancy

The Food and Drug Administration is pushing back against health providers prescribing abortion medication to women who aren’t pregnant as a tactic to expand access to the pills, Politico reports.

Some in-person and telemedicine providers have embraced the prescribing method, known as “advance provision,” as a way to skirt states’ abortion restrictions since the fall of Roe v. Wade this summer. But the FDA says they’re acting without the agency’s authorization.

A spokesperson told Politico’s Ben Leonard that if mifepristone is prescribed before a patient is pregnant, then providers might not be able to oversee the woman taking the pills. The agency is concerned that medical professionals may not be able to assess whether her pregnancy is intrauterine or ectopic. There’s also a concern that physicians wouldn’t be able to date pregnancies properly; the drug is only approved through 70 days gestation for abortion.

Advocates of advance provision argue that prescribing the abortion pill, called mifepristone, is safe and effective — and would help patients who say they are afraid they’ll lose access down the line. 

The bigger picture: The agency’s position puts the Biden administration at odds with some providers and abortion rights advocates, at a time when the president has pledged to do everything he can to preserve access to abortion.

ProPublica checking translation in covid origin story

ProPublica has called in at least two translators to get their interpretation of Chinese Communist Party documents that the publication used in its exposé on the origins of the coronavirus pandemic after some native Mandarin speakers scrutinized its translation, Semafor reports.

Key context: ProPublica and Vanity Fair published a joint investigation Friday about an interim report by a research team commissioned by Senate Republicans that concluded that the covid-19 pandemic was “more likely than not, the result of a research-related incident.” 

  • “The Wuhan Institute of Virology, the cutting-edge biotech facility at the center of swirling suspicions about the pandemic’s onset, was far more troubled than previously known, explosive documents unearthed by a Senate research team reveal,” the reporters wrote.

The article relied on Toy Reid, a State Department China analyst, to interpret Communist Party memorandums written in Mandarin. The story, and Reid’s interpretations, were quickly called into question by journalists and some experts on China who allege it was based on a mistranslation. Now, ProPublica is reviewing key details in the story and has been reaching out to Mandarin translators about whether it correctly quoted a Communist Party dispatch, Semafor’s Max Tani writes.

The other side: A ProPublica spokesperson defended the report, noting that the article itself points out that the documents are open to various interpretations. The nonprofit news organization said it was looking into questions raised about the Senate GOP report online and will update the story if needed.

  • Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is experiencing a coronavirus rebound case after completing a course of Pfizer’s antiviral treatment Paxlovid. She tested positive for the virus again Sunday and is experiencing mild symptoms, the agency announced yesterday.
  • The Supreme Court let a ruling stand that the Transportation Security Administration has the authority to require mask-wearing on planes during the coronavirus pandemic, keeping in place a precedent issued by a federal appeals court, Bloomberg News reports.
  • In North Dakota: A judge ruled yesterday that he will keep the state’s ban on abortions from taking effect, saying there’s a “substantial probability” that a constitutional challenge to the law will succeed, the Associated Press writes.
  • In Missouri: The state’s health department is investigating whether a hospital violated federal health-care rules in denying a woman an emergency abortion, forcing her to travel to Illinois for the procedure, the Associated Press reports.

Pulse oximeters and their inaccuracies will get FDA scrutiny today. What took so long? (By Usha Lee McFarling l Stat)

Drugmakers Fight Over Lucrative Pneumonia Vaccines (By Jared S. Hopkins | The Wall Street Journal)

A new tool to help prevent malaria shows promise: Antibody drugs (By Carolyn Y. Johnson | The Washington Post)

Thanks for reading! See y’all tomorrow.


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