President Joe Biden says his administration will end the three-year COVID-19 public health emergency on May 11 but Republican leaders in the United States House of Representatives aim to declare it over as soon as Feb. 1.
The newly constituted GOP-controlled House Rules Committee cleared four pandemic-related bills during four hours of hearings on Jan. 30, sending the proposals directly to House floor where they will be debated without committee review.
In a theme that would recur in deliberations on all four bills, Democrats—outnumbered 9-4 on the panel—argued that abruptly pulling the plug on a raft of COVID-19 emergency measure would cause massive disruptions across a range of health services, from telehealth to Medicaid to programs provided by the Veterans Administration.
“This decision is very, very disappointing,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the ranking minority member who chaired the committee for four years until this month, claiming that Republicans were hustling the bills to the House floor “for a soundbite” instead of allowing them to be vetted in committee review.
“To rush this to the floor, do a press release, and that’s it,” McGovern said, is irresponsible, noting there are plenty of other issues the new GOP leadership could rocket-docket. “Everybody needs to take a deep breath. I regret very much not taking that (committee) process.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) said “it is long past time” for the administration to end an emergency “that no longer exists.”
“This is long overdue,” she said, noting that nearly all states, including Washington on Oct. 31, have lifted their pandemic emergency declarations. “Most people recognize the pandemic is over. Biden said last September the pandemic was over and then extended the emergency two more times.”
Nevertheless, McMorris Rodgers said, the president has twice extended the emergency as cover for implementing progressive policies via executive order, such as a moratorium on evictions and student loan relief.
Noting Biden had announced earlier in the day that his administration would end the emergency declaration on May 11, McMorris Rodgers said, “I think it is important to act on the president’s commitment. I think we follow through on the commitment the president has made” by adopting the measure.
Rep. Thomas Massey (R-Ky.) said adopting the measures was important. “The administration could change its mind” at any time about ending the emergency declaration, he said.
Massey said he didn’t want to sound like “a coincidence conspiracist” but Biden’s earlier announcement indicated to him that “the administration is in full retreat.”
McGovern said the bills will make a fine show on the House floor but are “going nowhere in the Senate,” where Democrats are in the majority.
‘No Reason to Trust the Biden Regime’
The four bills are measures terminating the national emergency declaration first instituted by former President Donald Trump at the start of the pandemic and since extended 12 times: the Pandemic Is Over Act; the SHOW UP Act, ending emergency pandemic measures that allowed up to 47 percent of federal employees to work remotely; and the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act.
Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) who introduced the measure seeking to end the national emergency declaration, said the House will vote on his measure Wednesday—Feb. 1.
The panel debated for more than 90 minutes on the Freedom for Health Care Workers Act, filed by Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-S.C.) with 67 GOP cosponsors, which states that the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (DHS) can no longer “implement, enforce, or otherwise give effect to” a rule that requires COVID-19 vaccinations for providers and suppliers who participate in programs administered by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The bill also prohibits DHS and CMS from imposing “any substantially similar rule” in the future.
CMS, which imposed the rule in November 2021, required health care professionals providing Medicare and Medicaid services to receive the initial dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Dec. 6, 2021, and the second dose by Jan. 4, 2022, or lose their job or contracts with the federal government.
Republicans said the mandate not only is a violation of individual rights, but obsolete since it requires healthcare workers to receive the initial two rounds of vaccines that no longer exist.
And “there is no booster requirement,” Massey noted.
Citing a statistic that 85 percent of the nation’s nurses are women, Massey said the mandate equates to “a war on women.”
As the only New York representative on the panel, Rep. Nick Langworthy (R-N.Y.) said the “legislation hits close to home for me” because his state was the “epicenter of the beginning” of the pandemic and devolved, “unfortunately, into ground zero for draconian policies as well; so draconian that 34,000 healthcare workers were forced from jobs.”
“I stood on picket lines with nurses who, two months earlier, had been celebrated as heroes,” he said. “They went to work while we stayed at home to stay safe and then, they were thrown away like they were garbage if they refused to take a vaccination. The mandates are inexcusable. They need to be lifted.
“This is not about transmission anymore. This is a political statement.”
Source: The Epoch Time