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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: Administration says 'low to moderate confidence' Russia behind Afghanistan troop bounties | 'Low to medium risk' of Russia invading Ukraine in next few weeks | Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats he Hillicon Valley: Biden administration sanctions Russia for SolarWinds hack, election interference Intelligence leaders face sharp questions during House worldwide threats hearing MORE (D-Calif.), Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon Thompson10 Democrats join NAACP lawsuit against Trump Ambitious House lawmakers look for promotions Lawmakers roll out bill to protect critical infrastructure after Florida water hack MORE (D-Miss.) and Rep. Stephanie MurphyStephanie MurphyTrump hands Rubio coveted reelection endorsement in Florida Blue Dogs push House leadership to allow more member input Don't cut or condition US military aid to Israel 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 PelosiBiden angers Democrats by keeping Trump-era refugee cap Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones calls on Breyer to retire Biden rebuffs Democrats, keeps refugee admissions at 15,000 MORE (D-Calif.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin McCarthyKinzinger: Republicans who join 'America First' caucus should be stripped of committees McCarthy: GOP not the party of 'nativist dog whistles' Pro-Trump lawmakers form caucus promoting 'Anglo-Saxon political traditions' 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 KatkoPersonal security costs for anti-Trump lawmakers spiked post-riot New US sanctions further chill Biden-Putin relations Hillicon Valley: Intel leaders push for breach notification law | Coinbase goes public 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.