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Democrats seek to prolong the COVID-19 health emergency

Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

Democrats are apparently unwilling to turn the page on the pandemic this week and move beyond a framework of perpetual emergency, particularly if that might mean significantly less power for the Biden administration — power to achieve political ends tangential to American health and safety.

The White House indicated Monday that the president, who declared "the pandemic is over" in September 2022, will bring an end to COVID-19 national public health emergencies on May 11. The timeline is not entirely arbitrary, suggested the White House; this "would align with the Administration's previous commitments to give at least 60 days’ notice prior to termination of the [public health emergency]."

The timing of the White House announcement certainly was not arbitrary, coming several hours before the U.S. House of Representatives voted on whether to call off the emergency straightaway.

Democrat Rep. Frank Pallone (N.J.) said that Republican Kentucky Rep. Brett Guthrie's "Pandemic Is Over Act" would "abruptly and irresponsibly end the COVID-19 public health emergency virtually overnight."

The act passed in the House, with the vote going primarily along party lines, 220 to 210.

Guthrie had introduced the act on Jan. 17, just days after the Biden administration authorized the twelfth extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency, noting, "It is long overdue for President Biden to end the ... emergency and relinquish the emergency powers that he just renewed again."

"The Pandemic Is Over Act sends a loud and clear message to President Biden: the American people are tired of living in a perpetual state of emergency, and it’s long overdue for Congress to take back the authorities granted under Article 1 of the Constitution," he added in a statement upon the act's introduction.

Guthrie and other House Republicans have evidently been tired of this state of things for some time, having written to Biden and HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra in February 2022, stressing, "It is time for your administration to abandon its overbearing and authoritarian approach and show the country that the COVID-19 emergency is over."

While the "Pandemic Is Over Act" passed, The Hill indicated that Democrats will likely spike it in the Senate. Failing that, Biden may exercise his veto power.

According to Fox News Digital, Biden is incentivized to stick to his preferred timeline. His student loan forgiveness program depends upon the legal argument that COVID is an ongoing public health emergency.

Without the emergency, Biden may lack the authority. After all, he characterized the plan as a way to provide families "breathing room as they prepare to star repaying loans after the economic crisis brought on by the pandemic."

In advance of Biden possibly feeling the need to exercise his veto power, his administration is suggesting a punctual return to normalcy might prove disastrous.

The Office of Management and Budget claimed that the immediate repeal of the public health emergency would have "highly significant impacts on our nation's health system and government operations," creating "wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty."

The OMB further threatened that "if H.R. 382 becomes law and 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."

Despite the OMB's intimation, Guthrie maintains, "Nothing in my bill ends Title 42 despite the Administration stating it would. The Biden Administration, and Biden Administration alone, controls Title 42."

The Kentucky Republican added, "That statute was written in 1944, before the authority of a public health emergency even existed. If the Biden administration chooses to end Title 42 when the PHE ends without working with us to secure the border, that’s just another one of his failures to add to the list."

The New York Post reported that should the act ultimately pass, the development of vaccines and treatments will be shifted away from the direct management of the federal government. Additionally, upon the emergency's expiration, people will have to pay out-of-pocket costs for vaccines and treatments; those with private insurance significantly less so.

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