The U.S. Capitol. (Credit: Toni Smith, USGS. Public domain
Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Tim Kaine were among 12 Senate Democrats who joined Republicans Tuesday to vote in favor of ending the national emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic that was first declared by former President Donald Trump in March 2020.
The resolution, which would need to be passed by the U.S. House before going to President Joe Biden for a signature, is virtually dead on arrival. The White House has already said it would veto any legislation ending the emergency before its current expiration at the end of February.
But the vote shows a shift in attitude among some Democrats, including Virginia’s senators, toward the federal response to the pandemic. In March, a Senate vote on a resolution to terminate the emergency split along party lines, with all Republicans supporting the measure and all Democrats opposing it.
In a statement following the vote, Warner said “it’s time to have a bipartisan conversation about how we unwind from these emergency actions and move forward with the valuable lessons we’ve learned.”
“Today’s resolution won’t affect critical flexibilities, such as the ones facilitating access to telehealth,” he wrote. “Rather, this vote should serve as the beginning of a productive and bipartisan effort to examine which mitigation efforts and flexibilities are worth embedding permanently into our lives, and which are no longer relevant or necessary.”
In an emailed statement, Kaine said that “thanks to our recovery efforts like the American Rescue Plan, our country is in a different place than it was in March 2020.”
“Instead of still keeping an outdated emergency in place, we should be planning for the next phase of COVID recovery,” he continued.
The national emergency is separate from the federal public health emergency, which among other impacts has expanded telehealth availability and suspended annual eligibility reviews of Medicaid recipients in order to keep people’s coverage continuous throughout the pandemic.
In Virginia, as many as 400,000 people could lose their coverage once the public health emergency is lifted and the state begins reviewing eligibility again.
The federal government has pledged to provide states 60-day notice of the expiration of the public health emergency, which must be renewed every 90 days.
The national emergency grants the federal government greater powers and access to money under the National Emergencies Act, including the ability to pause student loan payments. Biden also used emergency powers to justify his student loan forgiveness plan.
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