Senate approves U.S. Surgeon General Nomination: The Senate approved President Obama’s nomination of Dr. Vivek Murthy to serve as U.S. surgeon general, despite opposition from some Republicans and Democrats over his support for gun control. Murthy, 37, is a physician at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School. He’s a co-founder of Doctors for America, a group that pushes for affordable health care and supports Obama’s health care law. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., said most of Murthy’s career has been spent as an activist focused on gun control and other political issues, rather than on treating patients. “Americans don’t want a surgeon general who might use this position of trust to promote his own personal campaign against the Second Amendment of the Constitution,” Barrasso said. Supporters said Murthy is well-qualified and noted his promise not to use the position as a bully pulpit for gun control. The nation has been without a Senate-confirmed surgeon general since July 2013. The surgeon general does not set policy but is an advocate for the people’s health.
School Meal Standards: A massive year-end spending bill released Tuesday doesn’t allow schools to opt out of healthier school meal standards but it would ease standards that require more whole grains in school foods. The bill also would put off rules to make school meals less salty, putting off lower sodium standards that were supposed to go into effect in 2017. The spending bill is expected to become law before the end of the year. The bill says the government cannot require the 2017 sodium levels “until the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.”
On other food issues, the spending bill would allow fresh white potatoes to be part of the federal Women, Infants and Children nutrition program. The Agriculture Department doesn’t currently allow them, even though it allows other fruits and vegetables, because it says people already eat enough white potatoes.
ObamaCare/Affordable Care Act: A strange thing has happened on Capitol Hill. Senior Democrats who were vital in writing and promoting ObamaCare appear to be having a change of heart. “Unfortunately, Democrats blew the opportunity the American people gave them,” Senator Chuck Schumer, D-NY, told an audience at the National Press Club last week. “We took their mandate and put all of our focus on the wrong problem — health care reform.” Schumer punctuated his criticism with the disclaimer that health care reform was nevertheless an important issue; it just should have been a bit farther down on the to-do list. “Americans were crying out for the end to the recession, for better wages and more jobs, not changes in health care,” he said. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, the retiring chairman of the Senate health panel and who also helped write the law, told The Hill newspaper that ObamaCare didn’t go far enough, arguing that the party should have pushed harder for a government-run, single-payer system while it had a filibuster-proof majority — or dropped it altogether. “We had the power to do it in a way that would have simplified healthcare, made it more efficient and made it less costly and we didn’t do it,” Harkin said, according to the Hill. “So I look back and say we should have either done it the correct way or not done anything at all.” These remarks are striking, coming from some of Capitol Hill’s most senior and influential Democrats.
Medical Marijuana Protection: Congress Passes Historic Medical Marijuana Protections in Spending Bill: Congress dealt a historic blow to the United States’ war on drugs with the passage of the federal spending bill, which contains protections for medical marijuana and industrial hemp operations in 23 states where they are legal. The bill includes an amendment that prohibits the Department of Justice from using funds to go after state-legal medical cannabis programs. If signed into law, the bill will bring the federal government one step closer to ending raids on medical marijuana dispensaries, as well as stopping arrests of individuals involved with pot businesses that are complying with state law. The bill protects medical marijuana programs in states that have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, plus 11 additional states that have legalized CBD oils, a non-psychoactive ingredient in marijuana shown to be beneficial in some severe cases of epilepsy. Under the Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance with “no currently accepted medical use,” alongside heroin and LSD. Since that doesn’t change with the passage of the omnibus package, it’s not entirely clear how the protections will work in practice.