GOP's post-pandemic playbook
President Biden declared in September that the COVID-19 pandemic was "over." If Republicans win control of Congress, they'll demand U.S. policy reflects that conclusion.
Why it matters: The pandemic ushered in revolutionary changes to U.S. health and economic policy. While many pandemic-era restrictions have already been rolled back, a full reversion to pre-COVID governance would have profound consequences for American life.
- In particular, the ongoing public health emergency and the national emergency declaration give the executive branch sweeping powers in critical areas of public policy, including health care, student loans and border security.
What we're hearing: Republicans will push to dismantle a number of lingering pandemic policies, with the U.S. military's vaccine mandate among the priorities, according to multiple GOP aides.
- The effort to topple the mandate is expected to include scrutiny of the process for granting religious exemptions and, if necessary, a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to fully rescind it.
- Also, don't count on Republicans approving the Biden administration's request for $22.4 billion in COVID funding if a package doesn't pass in the lame duck session.
The big picture: A constellation of House committees is planning a multi-pronged effort to draw down the nation’s pandemic posture.
Energy & Commerce: A GOP committee aide told Axios that returning to "normal" is a priority, namely by ending the public health emergency, stopping unnecessary pandemic spending, and reversing any worker COVID mandates.
- Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the top Republican on the committee, has repeatedly called for the Biden administration to provide a plan to unwind the public health emergency.
- The aide also said the panel's COVID top oversight targets are the virus' origins, policies around school shutdowns, and Democrats' pandemic spending.
Oversight: This committee would be the hub of GOP-led investigations, including probes into several ongoing pandemic policies and COVID’s origins, according to a committee aide.
- This week, committee members were briefed about the alleged mass rejection of religious exemptions to the Coast Guard's vaccine mandate.
- The panel will also likely investigate expanded federal government teleworking policies put in place during the pandemic.
Education & Labor: A list of COVID-related oversight targets provided to Axios includes relief money to schools, lost learning from school closures, government teleworking policies, pandemic-era child nutrition regulations, and the public health emergency.
- The list also says Republicans will seek to block efforts by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to implement a permanent health care industry standard on COVID.
- "During the pandemic, the Biden administration took unprecedented authority—and now it doesn’t want to give any of it back," Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), the panel’s top Republican, said in a statement. "I will do everything I can to loosen President Biden’s grip on powers that do not belong to him."
Ways & Means: Republicans are getting creative to claw back leftover COVID aid, pressing a handful of states with outstanding federal unemployment trust fund loans to pay back what they owe with unused American Rescue Plan money — rather than spend it on projects Republicans say amount to "waste and abuse."
- In their efforts to crack down on inflation, Republicans also plan to block any efforts to make COVID-era aid programs — like expanded unemployment insurance and the Child Tax Credit — permanent.
- Committee spokesperson J.P. Freire told Axios the trillions spent on stimulus "would have been unheard of prior to COVID, but COVID made that number less conspicuous."
Foreign Affairs: Republicans on this committee and others are planning a joint investigation into the continued awarding of grants to EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit whose work with the Wuhan Institute of Virology has come under scrutiny, committee staff told Axios.
Zoom in: Republicans also plan to dismantle the House's own remaining internal COVID safety mechanisms, according to senior GOP aides.
- That includes eliminating proxy voting on floor votes and scaling back the ability of members to participate in committee remotely, including remote voting during committee markups.
- It would also involve removing remaining restrictions on Capitol visitation and returning the building to pre-pandemic levels of public access.
What to watch: Even before the next Congress is sworn in, Republicans will mount a push against the Biden administration's pandemic policies in the form of a resolution to end the national emergency declaration on COVID.
- The resolution, introduced by Sen. Roger Marshall (R-Kansas) after Biden's comments in September, is set to be voted on when the Senate returns to session the week of Nov. 14, Marshall's office told Axios.
- The House didn’t take up that bill when it last passed the Senate in March, but a Republican-controlled House will, GOP aides say.
What they're saying: "After nearly three years of living under this state of emergency, the American people are worn out and yearning to breathe free," Marshall said in a statement to Axios.
- "Considering Joe Biden said COVID is over, it’s high time to stop talking about restrictions and the unknown. We must chart a new course to victory that respects the virus and our freedoms."