Menendez, Collins Call for Passage of 9/11-Style COVID Commission

Menendez and Co.

U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) today introduced bipartisan legislation creating an independent, non-partisan commission, closely modeled after the 9/11 Commission that investigated the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, to assess the nation’s pandemic preparedness and response, and provide recommendations to improve our country’s readiness for future public health crises.  The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 builds upon legislation Sens. Menendez and Collins introduced in the last Congress.

The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 has been endorsed by high-ranking officials and experts from both Republican and Democratic administrations, including former Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretaries Jeh Johnson, Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge, and former Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke.  The bill is cosponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), the respective chairs of the Senate Finance and Banking Committees that have oversight of national health and economic policy.

“As we grieve the loss of more than half-a-million Americans to COVID-19, we have a responsibility to do a thorough, independent review of what happened, what went wrong and what we can do better, so we’re prepared for the next public health emergency,” said Sen. Menendez, the Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a senior member of both the Senate Banking and Finance Committees.  “Millions of American lives have been devastated, our health systems have been pushed to the brink, and our economy has been decimated.  We can never put our country, our communities and our families through this again.  This isn’t about pointing fingers, but learning from our experiences and promising to do better.  In the aftermath of the worst public health catastrophe in our lifetimes, we will need to come together in a bipartisan way, as we did after 9/11, to do the serious, necessary work to protect American lives, because if we fail to learn anything from COVID-19, we are doomed to repeat this.”

“As our nation continues to respond to the current public health and economic crisis, we must also work to ensure that our country is better prepared for future epidemics and pandemics,” said Sen. Collins.  “Throughout history, Americans have repeatedly come together to overcome challenges.  Following the devastating terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, for example, the independent, bipartisan 9/11 Commission that Congress established provided a thorough review of the events and identified ways to safeguard our nation.  Many of the Commission’s recommendations were enacted into law as part of the sweeping intelligence reforms I co-authored to prevent future threats.  The legislation Senator Menendez and I have introduced would establish a similar bipartisan commission that would assess our country’s successes as well as areas in need of improvement in responding to COVID-19.  It would also examine ways we can strengthen our public health systems and protect our communities.”

“More than 500,000 Americans have lost their lives. There is no ignoring that number.  I believe that if the past administration had taken this crisis seriously from the start, instead of playing down its severity to fuel culture wars, that more Americans would be alive and healthy today,” Sen. Wyden said.  “Congress must investigate the federal government’s response to COVID-19 to ensure this loss never happens again.”

“We must learn from this crisis and do everything we can to be better prepared for the next inevitable threat.  And while we can’t prevent everything, there are steps we can take now to bolster our supply chains and reinforce our safety net so that the next time a crisis happens, whether it be a public health crisis, a natural disaster or an economic downturn, we have the right tools to address it,” said Sen. Brown.  “Establishing this independent commission will help us do that.”

The Commission will have a broad mandate and subpoena power to examine the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States, and it will make a full and complete accounting of the nation’s preparedness and response, including but not limited to the following topics:

·       communication with foreign governments regarding public health threats, including early warning, detection, prevention and response

·       federal, state and local intergovernmental coordination

·       interagency communication and information sharing

·       vaccine development and distribution

·       public health surveillance and testing

·       availability of medical equipment and supplies, including personal protective equipment (PPE)

·       preparedness and response of hospital, nursing homes and other congregate settings

·       scientific research

·       economic relief policies

·       health and economic disparities affecting racial and ethnic minority populations and other communities that have been disproportionately harmed

·       State, local, Tribal, and territorial government preparedness and response

Full bill text can be downloaded here.

The National Coronavirus Commission will craft policy recommendations after identifying the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic regarding the structure, coordination and procedures of the Federal Government, State, Tribal and local governments, and nongovernmental entities.  Those recommendations will seek to improve the ability of all levels of government and the private sector to prevent, respond to and prepare for future public health emergencies.

Likewise, the 9/11 Commission provided a full and complete accounting of the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, including preparedness for and the immediate response to the attacks.  Its final report and series of recommendations designed to guard against future attacks were widely regarded as both credible and non-partisan, largely due to the Commission’s independence and bipartisan make-up.

“I support the bipartisan National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021, modeled after the law that created the 9/11 Commission,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, who served under President Barack Obama.  “The full devastation from COVID-19 has yet to be realized, but we know already that it has now killed over 500,000 in this country, wrecked our economy, and pushed our public health care apparatus to the brink.  The nation on Earth with the mightiest public health care capability had the worst public health care response to COVID-19.  It didn’t have to be this way.  We could have done much better.  Now we owe it to the nation to learn from our mistakes.  The 9/11 Commission was and is a highly credible, bipartisan group of distinguished Americans that have over the years offered constructive recommendations in the aftermath of 9/11.  We must do the same for COVID-19.  This pandemic was not the first and it won’t be the last to reach American shores.  It is imperative that we take a holistic, top-to-bottom look at our nation’s response to COVID-19 and develop sound recommendations to better prepare for future public health crises.  This review must be done independently by the country’s top minds across relevant fields and without a whiff of partisanship.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges to our nation’s security and our ability to effectively respond to future public health threats,” said former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, who served under President George W. Bush, and co-chaired the ReOpen DC Advisory Group, which provided recommendations and expert guidance on safely reopening the District of Columbia. “And while we continue to grapple with this crisis and economic fallout, we must recognize that, just as we did after the September 11th terror attacks, our government must look towards a thorough, non-partisan investigation to identify areas in which we can improve our nation’s preparedness and response to future pandemics.  That’s why I fully support the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 and its creation of a 9/11-style commission to credibly look into our COVID-19 response and develop sweeping recommendations to strengthen our hospitals and public health systems, enhance our abilities to detect, track and prevent emerging health crises, safeguard our economy, and ensure we have the tools and resources necessary to protect the American people.”

“As the nation’s first Homeland Security Secretary, I implemented many of the recommendations set forth by the independent 9/11 Commission that still, to this day, protect the nation from foreign acts of terrorism. The 9/11 Commission has proven to be the gold-standard for how we can put partisanship aside, work together in common cause to solve big problems and develop sound policies that map a clear path forward,” said former Pennsylvania Governor and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, appointed by President George W. Bush. “I fully support the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021. It is vital, as a former governor, that we examine coordination and information sharing across all levels of government and how to best target help to the areas and people most in need.  The country demands an independent, non-partisan accounting of what happened, so that we can respond more efficiently and effectively, and save more lives the next time we face a public health emergency.”

The National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 establishes a ten-member independent body comprised of prominent Americans with expertise in government service, public health, commerce, scientific research, public administration, intelligence gathering, national security, and/or foreign affairs.  The President and congressional leadership will have 60 days to appoint the Commission members following the enactment of the legislation.  The Commission will hold public hearings and issue a publicly available report to the President and Congress within 18 months of its inception, with the possibility of limited extensions if necessary.  To ensure independence, the Commission is required to hire an ethics counsel to address potential and actual conflicts of interest by any member.

Congressmen Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.-07) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.-25) will introduce companion legislation in the House of Representatives, making this bill the only bipartisan, bicameral proposal calling for an independent, non-partisan investigation of America’s response to COVID-19.

“The American people deserve a thorough, non-partisan, investigation into how our government responded to the COVID-19 pandemic, what went wrong, and how we can contain and prevent future pandemics,” said Rep. Malinowski.  “This week our country reached the unimaginable milestone of 500,000 deaths. This can never be allowed to happen again.”

“Almost one year has passed since the Coronavirus struck our nation, and today we are still seeking information on our preparedness and response to this pandemic,” said Rep. Diaz-Balart.  “By establishing a bipartisan, bicameral National Coronavirus Commission, we can ensure that we are prepared for any future global public health emergency and its potential threat to our national security. I commend Senators Menendez and Collins for spearheading this important initiative in the Senate, and am proud to join my colleague, Rep. Malinowksi, in introducing the National Coronavirus Commission Act in the House.”

The legislation is supported by the BPC (Bipartisan Policy Center) Action, American Health Care Association, American Medical Association, American Hospital Association, American Nurses Association, New Jersey Hospital Association, American College of Emergency Physicians, National Hispanic Medical Association, National Council of Asian Pacific Islander Physicians, Third Way, National Restaurant Association, American Hotel & Lodging Association, Small Business Majority, Project on Government Oversight, Leading Age, UnidosUS, The Arc of the United States, Alliance for Aging Research, Alzheimer’s Association, National Low Income Housing Coalition, and the National Housing Law Project.

“COVID-19 has been one of the greatest national challenges facing our country and one from which we must learn to ensure future pandemics do not have the same catastrophic effects,” said Bipartisan Policy Center’s Chief Medical Officer Anand Parekh.  “As we begin to come out of the crisis, it is critical that we focus on rebuilding a strong, more effective national public health system.  We commend the senators for leading this debate and urge the creation of a national commission to examine and identify the measures to build a stronger, more resilient public health system to protect from future crises.”

“We commend Senators Menendez and Collins for their leadership on this issue. Long term care providers agree that we must have a national discussion about a lot of aspects of our public health care system and how our country can support providers and patients alike,” Kim Zimmerman, vice president of the American Health Care Association, said.  “We hope efforts like this can help identify future changes that will prioritize our long term care residents and staff to avoid the devastating consequences that this pandemic has caused.  The public health system’s focus on our most vulnerable and their caregivers must improve.”

“COVID-19 has presented a public health crisis on a scale that hasn’t been seen in a century.  The response has shown the tremendous commitment of the healthcare community, but it also has revealed the challenges faced across all sectors,” said Cathy Bennett, New Jersey Hospital Association president and CEO.  “NJHA commends Senator Menendez and Senator Collins for introducing this measure to help us understand what worked well in the COVID-19 response and what we can do to work better and smarter to protect our communities in the future.”

“Our initial federal response to the global coronavirus pandemic was marked with delay, confusion, and a lack of clear leadership.  The Project On Government Oversight applauds this bipartisan National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 to create a commission to examine these and other shortcomings in the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic and make recommendations to improve our ability to prepare and respond to future emergencies,” said Liz Hempowicz, director of public policy at The Project on Government Oversight.

“We are pleased to support this important bi-partisan and bi-cameral effort to ensure that we have a full accounting of the National response to the COVID-19 pandemic.  We specifically thank the drafters for ensuring that the Commission is specifically charged with reviewing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic on people with disabilities, a population that is far too often overlooked in the face of crises and who have faced higher death and infection rates from the virus, this information will be vitally important as we work to improve systems and supports as we recover as a Nation from the pandemic,” said Nicole Jorwic, senior director of public policy at The Arc of the United States.

“We applaud Senator Menendez for introducing the National Coronavirus Commission Act of 2021 to examine the nation’s response to the pandemic and the impact of economic relief, which is particularly important for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) that was implemented to aid struggling small businesses,” said John Arensmeyer, founder & CEO of Small Business Majority.  “We know that many entrepreneurs of color faced barriers to accessing federal relief last year and that minority-owned businesses continue to experience a disproportionate impact from the pandemic. As the largest stimulus program in our nation’s history, it’s critical that PPP and other federal relief programs receive proper oversight and transparency and to shed a light on how underserved communities have been served by stimulus relief.”

While serving in the House of Representatives in 2002, Sen. Menendez voted for the Intelligence Authorization Act, which created the 9/11 Commission, and later was instrumental in passing the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 that made sweeping changes to our homeland security and intelligence operations based on the commission’s work.  After coming to the Senate in 2006, Sen. Menendez led efforts to implement into law all 41 of the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations.  In 2007, Congress passed the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007, which included key Menendez provisions for 100% cargo screening and to allocate homeland security grants based on risk.

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