Jan 13, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Dems try to make up for Biden COVID shortfalls with new proposals

Rep. Ro Khana is seen walking through the Capitol basement.
Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Congressional Democrats are trying to backfill for perceived shortfalls in the Biden administration's coronavirus response with a wave of new bill filings.

Why it matters: The legislative spurt is a reflection of the dread Democrats feel ahead of this fall's midterm elections. Republicans are already trying to capitalize on the discontent.

  • "I think ... the public expects that they have a government that's treating COVID like we're on a war-footing, and that we're doing everything humanly possible," Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told Axios in an interview.
  • "These are the types of measures that will look like we're taking decisive leadership, energetic leadership."

Driving the news: Reps. Don Beyer (D-Va.), Dina Titus (D-Nev.) and Joe Morelle (D-N.Y.) on Wednesday introduced a bill that would require the federal government to provide universal free testing.

  • The Department of Health and Human Services would be compelled to purchase enough rapid, at-home tests to "provide two such tests per week to every resident of the United States."
  • In addition to pharmacies and schools, the tests would be made available by mail through online or phone order.

Khanna, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Reps. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) also introduced a bill on Wednesday to provide three N95 masks to every American.

  • It was co-sponsored by dozens of House and Senate Democrats.
  • In addition, Khanna and Sanders co-led a letter to Biden with Reps. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) on Tuesday calling for greatly expanded testing, including home test delivery.

What they're saying: “The rapid spread of the Omicron variant over the past weeks suggests that Americans are in a dramatically more vulnerable position than we had anticipated being just last month. There is no time to waste," the letter said.

  • During the interview, Khanna said of his call for distributing N95 masks: “If it’s good enough for members of Congress, it’s good enough for Americans."
  • The Capitol attending physician has recommended members wear N95 or KN95 masks on the House floor.
  • “It’s not easy to go into your local pharmacy and just get N95 masks, and it’s expensive," Khanna told Axios.

The other side: Some Republicans have contrasted the shortages with Biden's pandemic promises during the election.

  • "President Biden promised ... 'access to regular, reliable and free COVID-19 tests,'" Rep. John Rose (R-Tenn.) said in a floor speech. "But as we near a year into his presidency, he has failed to deliver on these basic promises."
  • Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.) went as far as to repudiate a plan to provide House offices with a weekly allotment of at-home tests.
  • "Members of Congress and our staffs are not above the American people, and I will be donating these tests to a local health care facility," Donalds said in a statement Wednesday. He urged his colleagues to follow suit.
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