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Key House committee chairmen ask leadership to include coronavirus commission in next relief bill

Key House committee chairmen ask leadership to include coronavirus commission in next relief bill
© Greg Nash

The chairmen of two key committees on Friday urged House leadership to include a provision in the next coronavirus relief package that would create an independent bipartisan commission to review the federal government's handling of the pandemic.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOVERNIGHT DEFENSE: Trump pardons Flynn | Lawmakers lash out at decision | Pentagon nixes Thanksgiving dining hall meals due to COVID-19 Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Trump pardons Michael Flynn MORE (D-Calif.), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonDangerously fast slaughter speeds are putting animals, people at greater risk during COVID-19 crisis House Democrats subpoena private prison operator in forced hysterectomy case Trump relents as GSA informs Biden transition to begin MORE (D-Miss.) and Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyWhy it's time for a majority female Cabinet Democrats scramble on COVID-19 relief amid division, Trump surprise Bank lobbying group launches ad backing Collins reelection bid MORE (D-Fla.), the co-chairwoman of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, have each introduced their own bills in recent weeks to create a commission dedicated to examining the coronavirus response. Their joint letter to House leadership marked a push to consolidate their individual efforts.

"As we continue to grapple with the health and economic ramifications of this virus, it is vital that we begin laying the groundwork for an extensive and authoritative study, just as we did in the wake of Pearl Harbor and the September 11th terrorist attacks," Schiff, Thompson and Murphy wrote in the letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiObama chief economist says Democrats should accept smaller coronavirus relief package if necessary The five biggest challenges facing President-elect Biden Democrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? MORE (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyDemocrats were united on top issues this Congress — but will it hold? Top Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Richmond says GOP 'reluctant to stand up and tell the emperor he wears no clothes' MORE (R-Calif.).

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"We owe it to those who we have lost their lives and their loved ones to provide a full accounting of the national response to the virus — where we succeeded, where we failed, and how we can be better prepared for future pandemics," they wrote.

Their proposals would all establish a commission that would include members of both parties to study the government's preparations for the coronavirus outbreak and make recommendations for how to improve the response to any future pandemics.

While the bills are all largely very similar, there are some differences between the proposals. Schiff's, for instance, would limit the commission to ten members, while Thompson's envisions the commission having 25 members selected by relevant congressional committees.

The bills offered by Schiff and Murphy would also delay the start of the commission's work until early 2021, which would be after the November elections.

Murphy introduced her bill with Rep. John KatkoJohn Michael KatkoRundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Republicans who could serve in a Biden government Fitzpatrick wins reelection in Pennsylvania MORE (R-N.Y.), while the measures introduced by Schiff, who led House Democrats' impeachment inquiry last year, and Thompson do not currently have any GOP co-sponsors.

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"While there are important differences in what has been proposed, there are far more commonalities," Schiff, Thompson and Murphy wrote. "Should the House Leadership determine that inclusion of language establishing an independent bipartisan commission is warranted, we are confident we could work quickly with Members of both parties to reach an agreement."

Congress has already established multiple entities to conduct oversight of the federal government's handling of the pandemic. The coronavirus relief measure signed into law in March includes three measures to oversee the stimulus spending: the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee comprised of inspectors general from nine agencies, a special inspector general for pandemic recovery, and a congressional oversight commission with members appointed by the party leadership in both the House and Senate.

In addition, House Democrats created a new select committee led by Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) to investigate the federal government's handling of the pandemic. McCarthy appointed members to the committee on Thursday, after expressing some initial reluctance to take part in an entity he had derided as "impeachment 2.0."

Schiff, Thompson and Murphy argued that their proposed commission would be different from the other oversight entities.

"We strongly believe that the establishment of an independent and bipartisan commission comprised of outside experts would complement other oversight efforts by Congress, Inspectors General, and others," they wrote.

House Democrats are expected to unveil their next coronavirus relief bill in the coming days, with a vote as soon as next week. Other provisions are expected to pertain to funding the Postal Service, ensuring states can allow residents to vote by mail and food assistance.