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Stephen Boyd: THE MONDAY BRIEF | February 6, 2023

Stephen Boyd’s weekly Capitol Hill briefing for Alabama’s business, financial, defense and government affairs executives.

Saying the Quiet Part Out Loud…

Stand in front of the cameras long enough and—eventually—politicians are going to say something they wish they hadn’t. Sometimes it’s just inarticulate phrasing or a harmless factual error. Occasionally, it’s a big gift to the other side. 

Such was the case during a “60 Minutes” interview in September 2022 when President Biden declared, “The pandemic is over.” The impromptu pronouncement was probably intended to bolster Democrats in the run up to the midterm elections, and many Americans agreed with the President’s unexpected assessment. Unfortunately for Biden, that didn’t include top officials that worked for him: his administration had just asked Congress for billions in new COVID-related spending, and, two weeks prior, had reported that, “The Pandemic isn’t over.” Indeed, even after Biden’s September comments, his Administration extended the public health emergency further. 

In the media, Republicans pounced on the mixed messages. In a letter to Biden, a group of seventeen House conservatives wrote that they “firmly agree[d]” with the President and requested that he immediately “terminate the national emergency concerning the COVID-19 outbreak.” 

Biden didn’t budge until last week when his Administration quietly slipped into an administrative document headed to Capitol Hill news that the public health emergency should now expire—but technically not for another 100 days or so. 

If you’re confused, you’re not alone. 

Background: In response to COVID, federal officials in early 2020 declared emergencies pursuant to a number of statutes, including Sec. 319 of the Public Health Service Act (PHSA), the National Emergencies Act, and the PREP Act. 

For example, the Public Health Emergency declared under the PHSA permits the Secretary of Health and Human Services to take emergency actions, provides flexibility to waive various rules and requirements, and opens the door to whole host of other “standby” legal authorities.  

With emergency declarations in place, requirements for Medicare and social safety net programs like Medicaid and CHIPS may be waived, Ready Reserve units activated, student loans modified, and trade deadlines extended. Additionally, Congress tied provisions in massive legislation like the CARES Act, the American Rescue Plan, and the Omnibus spending bill to the emergency declaration. Each of those bills gave the Executive Branch more power and money.  

Looking ahead: “The COVID-19 national emergency and public health emergency (PHE) were declared by the Trump Administration in 2020. They are currently set to expire on March 1 and April 11, respectively. At present, the Administration’s plan is to extend the emergency declarations to May 11, and then end both emergencies on that date,” the White House wrote.  The delay is designed to allow an orderly transition for parts of the federal government, the states, and the economy that have been profoundly impacted by temporary pandemic rules.  “An abrupt end to the emergency declarations would create wide-ranging chaos and uncertainty throughout the health care system — for states, for hospitals and doctors’ offices, and, most importantly, for tens of millions of Americans,” read the White House Statement of Administrative Policy. 

What to expect: Winding down the pandemic emergency will play out in myriad ways, but some of the more obvious impacts that constituents will experience—and elected officials will closely monitor—include: 

  • A general shift of the cost of COVID-related health care from the government back to individuals and their insurance companies. 
  • Some free public health services will likely end: testing, vaccines, and treatments. Individuals with insurance may now face co-pays or deductibles. Poor and uninsured Americans will be most at risk.
  • Reportedly, the cost of vaccines from manufacturers like Pfizer and Modern are likely to substantially increase. 
  • Tele-health may become more restricted, reverting back to old rules that imposed geographic boundaries on care. 
  • Medicaid may return to an annual evaluation process to ensure beneficiaries are qualified, and disruptions of coverage may result. States were generally prohibited from removing individuals from Medicaid rolls during the health emergency. 
  • Additional support for hospitals may end, though many still face tough finances and critical staffing shortages.
  • The Title 42 authority for immigration officials to expel certain illegal aliens could be affected. The current order invoking Title 42 authority provides that it remain in effect until the expiration of the public health emergency or a further determination by the Centers for Disease Control. The matter is subject to pending federal litigation. 

For some, the May 11 expiration date isn’t fast enough. Last week, the Republican-led House approved the “Pandemic is Over Act,” which passed on a party line vote of 220-210. That legislation would end the public health emergency immediately upon enactment, but the Senate is unlikely to act and President Biden already announced his opposition. File that one under “Messaging Bills.”

Since early 2020, the U.S. government has spent trillions responding to COVID. About 1.1 million Americans have died from the disease. 

The Schedule…

The House is back in action today through Thursday. A two-week recess will follow. 

The Rules Committee, which dictates how legislation will be considered on the House floor, meets this evening to consider a handful of bills, including H.J. Res 26, a bill to overrule the District of Columbia’s new Revised Criminal Code that is widely seen as soft on crime. 

This comes as the nation’s Capital, like many large cities, experiences a wave of violent criminal activity: In the first 34 days of 2023, the District of Columbia saw a homicide every two days, 117 assaults with a deadly weapon, and the theft of—this is not a typo—611 vehicles. Many of those thefts were armed carjackings, and those sorts of crimes now seem to regularly occur in traditionally safe areas of the city populated by Members and staff. While D.C. generally manages its own affairs, the U.S. Constitution grants Congress ultimate control over the District’s legislation “in all cases whatsoever.” It appears the Republican House is about to exercise that authority. 

The Senate returns Tuesday afternoon to consider a judicial nomination to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Senate is in this week and next before the week-long President’s Day recess. To date, the Senate has taken just five Roll Call votes, two of which came on noncontroversial resolutions that passed without a single “no” vote. 

Hallway Conversations…

  • President Biden will deliver the State of the Union address in the House chamber on Tuesday night at about 8 PM CT. Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a former White House Press Secretary in the Trump Administration and now the youngest governor in the country, will deliver the Republican response. In a statement, Sanders said, “I am grateful for this opportunity to … contrast the GOP’s optimistic vision for the future against the failures of President Biden and the Democrats.”
  • The White House says President Biden’s FY2024 budget will be delivered to Congress on March 9, 2023, about a month behind schedule. Arrival of the budget on Capitol Hill marks the traditional start of the annual budget and spending cycle, but committees will already be at work by the time the budget arrives this year. 
  • The Federal Election Commission is increasing the limit for contributions by individuals to campaign for the 2024 election cycle to $3,300 per election from $2,900—a larger than normal increase driven partly by inflation. In the eyes of the FEC, a primary contest and the general vote are two separate elections, meaning an individual can now give $6,600 every two years to his or her favorite candidate. Caps on contributions to the national parties also increased. 
  • Representative Dale Strong has been appointed to three House Armed Services Committee subcommittees for the 118th Congress: Strategic Forces; Readiness, and Cyber, Innovative Technologies, and Information Systems (CITI). The Strategic Forces subcommittee that oversees missile defense is especially relevant to Strong’s North Alabama district. 
  • You saw it: A Chinese spy balloon crossed the entirety of the United States before a F-22 Raptor fired an AIM-9 sidewinder missile to bring down the balloon off the South Carolina coast. It feels like there is more to come regarding how the U.S. handled this situation, and certain Members will start receiving briefings this week. The Biden Administration said that similar balloons had entered the U.S. airspace during the Trump administration, a claim Trump now denies. We’ll see. In the meantime, do five balloon kills make an Air Force ace?

Is your organization or trade association planning a visit to Washington this Spring? Let me know and we’ll highlight it here. 


Stephen E. Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions. Previously, he served as a Senate-confirmed Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Chief of Staff for Alabama members in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, and as a Communications Director of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. He resides in the Washington, D.C. area. Opinions expressed herein are his own. This news report is not intended to influence or persuade. Email Stephen at [email protected].

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