Chris Lange, FISM News
The Biden administration announced Monday that it will extend the twin national COVID-19 emergencies to May 11, on which date they will both expire. The announcement came ahead of this week’s House floor vote on several Republican resolutions to immediately end the federal emergency declarations.
“The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020. They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) said in a statement.
The OMB asserted that the GOP proposals to abruptly end the PHE would pose “grave” risks to Americans and cause “wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system.”
It also noted that ending the PHE will also trigger the immediate repeal of Title 42, the Trump-era public health policy that allowed for the rapid expulsion of migrants at U.S. borders, which the OMB warned will “result in a substantial additional inflow of migrants at the Southwest border.” The statement went on to note that, while President Biden has sought to end Title 42, the intention of his administration has been “an orderly, predictable wind-down” of the policy to allow for “sufficient time to put alternative policies in place.”
“But if H.R. 382 becomes law and the Title 42 restrictions end precipitously, Congress will effectively be requiring the Administration to allow thousands of migrants per day into the country immediately without the necessary policies in place,” the statement continued.
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar declared the PHE on Jan. 30, 2020, which has provided traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage beneficiaries with free at-home COVID-19 tests and required private insurance providers to cover coronavirus testing and treatments with no cost-sharing and without the need for prior authorization requirements.
It also placed COVID-19 vaccine development and treatments under the direct management of the federal government and gave elected officials and government agencies unprecedented power to enact public health policies, which resulted in widespread lockdowns and mask and vaccine mandates.
The PHE has been renewed a total of 12 times over the past three years, with the latest extension announced by the Biden administration on January 11, 2023. Republicans frustrated with the endless and costly extensions have made repeated references to President Biden’s declaration that “the pandemic is over” during a September 2022 “60 Minutes” interview.
Fox News reported last week that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) directed The House Rules Committee to set up floor votes on four pieces of legislation that would end the federal health emergencies, including The Stopping Home Office Work’s Unproductive Problems Act, or the SHOW UP Act. Under the measure introduced by Rep. James Comer (R-Ky.), federal workers would be required to return to their offices and federal agencies would be required to restore telework policies that were in place before the COVID pandemic. The House will also consider a joint resolution introduced by Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.) to simply terminate the PHE.
“There is no ongoing COVID-19 emergency to justify the continuation of the national emergency declaration,” Gosar said in announcing the resolution back in May of 2021. “Cases are down and most Americans have returned to a pre-pandemic normalcy. This hardly sounds like a country under a national emergency, which is why I am calling on my colleagues and Mr. Biden to reverse course and move to give the People back their say in government.”
Republican proposals to end the emergency declaration were, until now, largely symbolic, given Democrats’ control of the White House and both chambers of Congress. With their newfound, albeit slim, majority in the lower chamber, however, the GOP has the opportunity to bring them to a vote. While it is unlikely that the measures, if passed in the House, would ever make it past the Democrat-controlled Senate — or, if it came to it, the President’s desk — this week’s vote will force lawmakers to go on record concerning where they stand on the subject.
“Most people would argue it’s long overdue. I think we’ve said goodbye — not entirely, but for all intents and purposes — to the pandemic a long time ago and I think it’s probably high time our policies reflect that,” Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said following the White House announcement, according to The Hill.
“It makes sense. Everybody’s either got immunity through taking the vaccine, had [COVID-19], or probably both. It’s time to move on,” Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said.