Willie R. Tubbs, FISM News
President Joe Biden’s proclamation that the COVID pandemic has ended might have been meant as a self-congratulatory remark as the midterms loom, but it could cost Biden big in his fight for more spending.
“The pandemic is over,” Biden said during an interview with “60 Minutes.” “We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it … but the pandemic is over.”
As first reported by CNN, Republican leaders in the Senate are asking the obvious question: why are billions still needed to fund the nation’s response to a pandemic that is no longer happening?
Monday, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the highest-ranking Republican on the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, wrote a letter to Biden asking for clarification.
“Despite Americans having largely returned to normal life, which you acknowledged when you noted that attendees at the Detroit Auto Show were not wearing masks, your Administration continues to request un-offset emergency funding from Congress, enforce vaccine mandates, and maintain federal emergency declarations that cost taxpayers billions of dollars,” Burr wrote.
The senator then listed a series of questions all aimed at getting Biden to explain his policy positions, many of which have hinged on expanded presidential authority the president says is warranted (although many courts have disagreed) because of the existence of the pandemic.
Among the items for which Burr sought comment were the issues of mask guidance from the CDC, vaccine mandates for federal workers, ending remote work for federal employees, and ending the student loan repayment pause.
“Since you have declared the pandemic to be over, and your Administration relies on the emergency in your illegal actions citing the HEROES Act as their authority … Will the Department of Education return student loans to repayment without any further extensions to the pause on payments and interest?” Burr wrote.
The big question, for Burr and numerous other ranking Republicans, is why the administration wants another $22.5 billion in COVID funding in the pending resolution to fund the government.
Republicans and Democrats have until Oct. 1 to pass this resolution if a government shutdown is to be avoided, and the process has been fraught with challenges for weeks.
Progressive Democrats are angry that Biden wants to include a fossil fuel provision as a means of repaying West Virginia Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin for his support of the Inflation Reductions Act. Republicans have balked at the idea of COVID or monkeypox spending.
Biden is likely to get his wish on the Manchin provision, but his “60 Minutes” remarks might have sealed the fate of COVID funding in the upcoming government funding bill.
“It makes it eminently harder for sure,” Senate Minority Whip John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview with CNN. “It also begs the question as to why [he’s approving] other pandemic-related measures, like student-loan forgiveness, cancellations.”
The White House has been in damage control mode since the president’s remarks. The medical community, particularly those who operate in the area of public health, have cried foul.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, Biden’s top medical advisor, was chief among the dissenting voices.
“We are not where we need to be if we are going to quote ‘live with the virus’ because we know we are not going to eradicate it,” Fauci said during a fireside chat with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, which was covered in more detail by Politico. “The next question we ask: ‘Are we going to be able to eliminate it from our country or from most of the world?’ and the answer is unlikely, because it is highly transmissible and the immunity that’s induced by vaccine or infection is also transient.”
Biden, who is in the United Kingdom for the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, has not yet expounded upon his initial statement.