Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina wants President Biden to clarify his position on COVID-19 after declaring the pandemic over in a prime-time interview.
Mr. Burr, the senior Republican on the Senate Health Committee, said Americans will be confused by the declaration given the array of COVID-19 provisions that remain in place, from vaccine mandates on military members and health care workers to higher Medicaid funding for states and leniency around student-loan payments.
The senator also said the comments will complicate Mr. Biden’s push for $22.5 billion in emergency funding to sustain the fight against the virus.
“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,” Mr. Burr wrote in a Monday letter. “Without a clear plan to wind down pandemic-era policies, the deficit will continue to balloon and the effectiveness of public health measures will wane as the American people continue to be confused by mixed messages and distrust of federal officials.”
Mr. Burr was responding to Mr. Biden’s assertion on CBS’ “60 Minutes” that the dire pandemic phase of COVID-19 was in the rearview mirror.
“The pandemic is over. We still have a problem with COVID. We’re still doing a lot of work on it. It’s — but the pandemic is over,” Mr. Biden said in the “60 Minutes” interview.
Experts say there is no formal mechanism for declaring an end to the pandemic phase, so it is more of a state of mind or assertion by leaders.
The U.S. still designates COVID-19 as a public health emergency, and the World Health Organization considers it a public health emergency of international concern, though WHO’s chief recently said the pandemic phase is coming to a close.
Mr. Burr said the current emergency declaration around COVID-19 is set to expire on Oct. 13. States are supposed to be given 60 days of notice before its expiration and, to his knowledge, that hasn’t happened.
The senator said the situation has sweeping implications for the 6.2 percentage point increase in matching funds states received for their Medicaid programs.
“As a result of this policy, more than one in four Americans is now enrolled in Medicaid, placing an immense strain on the safety net program that should be focused on providing high-quality care to the most vulnerable low-income Americans, particularly those with complex health and long-term care needs,” Mr. Burr wrote. “Since the pandemic is over, how do you justify spending tens of billions to keep people on Medicaid who would otherwise make too much money to qualify for the program and already have employer-sponsored insurance?”
Mr. Burr also wants to know if Mr. Biden plans to rescind vaccine requirements on federal workers, contractors and health care workers, revisit mask rules tied to community transmission and disease levels, and reconsider his decision to forgive student debt.
The White House has tried to pivot from treating the virus like a hair-on-fire crisis to a manageable disease. It says the virus still poses a risk, however, and is demanding new funding and certain rules to keep the virus in check and guard against new variants.
“COVID remains a problem and we are fighting it,” press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
At the same time, she said, “we can acknowledge the massive amount of progress that we’ve made.”
For more information, visit The Washington Times COVID-19 resource page.