Democratic senators want to create panel to determine how to reopen country

Democratic senators want to create panel to determine how to reopen country
© Greg Nash

A group of Democratic senators want to create a commission for determining how to reopen businesses, schools and other parts of the country shuttered by the coronavirus.

Five Democratic senators said on Monday that they will introduce legislation to form a panel, known as the America Forward Commission, that would be tasked with coming up with a strategy on how and when to begin opening back up closed parts of the country.

“Reopening communities, schools, and businesses following a pandemic is a serious public health matter, and we should treat it that way. Independent experts should be the ones helping us determine how we can reopen the country when it is safe to do so,” Sen. Brian SchatzBrian Emanuel SchatzFor platform regulation Congress should use a European cheat sheet Senate Democrats rebuke GOP colleagues who say they'll oppose Electoral College results 11 Senate Republicans say they will oppose Electoral College results Wednesday MORE (D-Hawaii), who spearheaded the bill, said in a statement.

In addition to Schatz, Democratic Sens. Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisScalise bringing Donna Brazile as guest to Biden inauguration McConnell, Schumer fail to cut power-sharing deal amid filibuster snag Howard University's marching band to escort Harris at inauguration MORE (Calif.), Cory BookerCory BookerOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Booker: It would be 'constitutionally dangerous' not to conduct full Trump impeachment trial MORE (N.J.), Michael BennetMichael Farrand BennetTop Democrat pushes for tying unemployment insurance to economic conditions 50-50 Senate opens the door to solutions outlasting Trump's moment of violence Build trust in vaccines by investing in community workers MORE (Colo.) and Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Democrats call on Biden to immediately invoke Defense Production Act GOP senator questions constitutionality of an impeachment trial after Trump leaves office Overnight Health Care: Testing capacity strained as localities struggle with vaccine staffing | Health workers refusing vaccine is growing problem | Incoming CDC director expects 500,000 COVID deaths by mid-February MORE (Conn.) are backing the legislation.

The White House already has a Coronavirus Task Force, which has been giving near daily briefings with Trump. The president is also expected to announce a separate "Opening Our Country" council on Tuesday, which will be focused on reopening parts of the country shuttered by the rapid spread of the coronavirus.

The commission being proposed by the Democratic senators would make policy recommendations. The legislation to establish it would also require that the White House's coronavirus task force respond in writing to any ideas within one week of receiving them and publicly post the responses.

Trump has appeared eager to quickly try to jump start the economy after a tumultuous period, though public health experts warn that moving too quickly could risk a second wave of spikes in new coronavirus cases.

There are 547,627 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the United States as of early Monday evening, with 21,662, deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University.

“Protecting public health is a core function of government, and it’s a responsibility all elected officials must take seriously. The eventual decision to ease social distancing orders and return to the pre-coronavirus ‘normal’ must be driven by science, not politics,” Harris said on Monday.

The legislation that will be introduced by the Democratic senators would require the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to appoint 10 to 15 members for the panel. That would have to include at least one expert in public health, economics, transportation, medicine, national security and state and local government.

The commission would be responsible for developing standards and techniques for allowing the government to "diagnose, isolate and mitigate the coronavirus," including if it becomes a seasonal reoccurrence, as some public health officials have predicted it will.

It would also make decisions on medical supplies and protective equipment, two areas where state officials have said a lack of a national strategy has led to state governments bidding against each other to try to secure more supplies.

The panel would also study proposals to help bolster economic sectors and workers that are most vulnerable to the disruption sparked by a pandemic. Roughly 17 million workers have filed for unemployment in the span of three weeks as the coronavirus has ravaged broad swaths of the U.S. economy, according to data from the federal government.