By Jack Phillips
House Republicans on Tuesday introduced legislation to end the COVID-19 public health emergency, coming about three years after it was implemented nationwide.
On Jan. 11, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) confirmed that it would again extend the health emergency for another 90 days, according to a declaration issued by HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra. The emergency has been renewed about a dozen times since it was implemented under the Trump administration in early 2020.
Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-Ky.) proposed ending the emergency declaration, again putting more pressure on the Biden administration to rescind the measure. If it passes through Congress, it’s likely President Joe Biden would attempt to veto the bill.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is over,” Guthrie wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “It’s long overdue to end the COVID-19 public health emergency and for President Biden to relinquish his emergency powers.”
The bill, titled the “Pandemic Is Over Act,” stipulates that HHS “shall terminate on the date of enactment of this Act.” About three months ago, Biden told a “60 Minutes” reporter that he believes “the pandemic is over,” prompting White House officials to scramble to clarify his stance.
“The COVID-19 pandemic is over,” Guthrie said in a statement. “Despite President Biden admitting this in September, his administration just authorized the 12th extension of the COVID-19 public health emergency. It is long overdue for President Biden to end the COVID-19 public health emergency and relinquish the emergency powers that he just renewed again.”
The White House, he said, has engaged in a “lack of transparency” over the emergency extensions. “I introduced the Pandemic Is Over Act to prevent any more delays by forcing the Biden administration to finally release and execute a plan that my House Republican colleagues and I have been repeatedly pressing for to unwind the public health emergency,” the lawmaker said.
The bill may see some success in the Senate, where some Democrats joined Republicans in voting to approve a similar piece of legislation in December to end the federal emergency. Biden said he would veto that bill if it reaches his desk.
“It has now been more than 2 1/2 years since this first-issued proclamation declaring the national emergency concerning declaration and been extended twice by President Biden since the initial declaration, most recently February 2022,” Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), who sponsored the Senate resolution, said during floor remarks at the time.
On Jan. 11, Becerra issued a declaration saying that “after consultation with public health officials as necessary,” the White House decided the renew the emergency. The emergency primarily impacts the U.S. health care system, providing health insurance coverage protection for millions, giving hospitals more resources, and more telehealth services.
“The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency remains in effect, and as HHS committed to earlier, we will provide a 60-day notice to states before any possible termination or expiration,” a spokesperson for HHS told media outlets. Based on Becerra’s declaration and the spokesperson’s public statements, it is not clear when the emergency will end.
However, unnamed Biden administration officials told Politico and other news outlets last week that they are aiming to end the emergency in the spring of 2023. The Epoch Times could not immediately verify those reports, and the White House did not respond to a request for comment.
About two-dozen Republican governors, meanwhile, called on the Biden administration to rescind (pdf) the COVID-19 emergency in a December letter. The reason why it should end, they argued, is because the emergency places undue financial strain on states due to its expansion of Medicaid coverage.
The health emergency, the letter said, is “negatively affecting states, primarily by artificially growing our population covered under Medicaid … regardless of whether individuals continue to be eligible under the program.”
“States are required to increase our non-federal match to adequately cover all enrollees,” they said, “and cannot disenroll members from the program unless they do so voluntarily.”
In mid-December, the White House released its “COVID-19 Winter Preparedness Plan” that would make more COVID-19 test kits freely available. Administration officials also again recommended Americans get the vaccine and boosters.
Compared with the past several winters, COVID-19 cases in December 2022 and January 2023 appear to have sharply declined, according to data provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of Jan. 11. In mid-January 2022, CDC data showed that there were more than 5 million weekly COVID-19 cases, but for the week of Jan. 11, 2023, only about 414,000 weekly cases have been reported.