In a bipartisan thrust “to reaffirm the United States’ commitment to global health security amid the COVID-19 pandemic,” Sens. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said on Friday said they were introducing legislation that would, among other things, establish a panel charged with preparing for pandemics.
The bill (pdf), which carries the short title “Global Health Security Act of 2020,” seeks to codify in law U.S. global health security staffing and activities, which now largely rely on executive orders. It also responds to calls for a permanent designated official to coordinate the interagency response to a health security crisis of global scope.
The legislation would require the U.S. president to set up a Global Health Security Interagency Review Council and a U.S. Coordinator for Global Health Security.
“By establishing a health security council and dedicating a new NSC position to developing global health strategies and coordinating responses, our bill will better prepare us to confront the spread of another infectious disease,” Romney said in a statement Friday.
The council, comprised of officials from across the federal government, would provide recommendations on global health policy and assist with implementation. It would meet at least four times a year.
The remit of the coordinator, who would be an appointee from the National Security Council, would be to coordinate an all-of-government response to global health crises. The coordinator would brief Congress at least twice annually.
“Our experience with coronavirus has exposed some glaring gaps in our nation’s capacity to respond to a pandemic, and it is critical that we are better prepared to coordinate global responses and exert leadership to address future health threats,” Romney added.
The White House has come under fire for a 2018 decision to disband the National Security Council’s global health unit, a similar entity to the one the new legislation is seeking to establish. Critics have claimed the lack of a pandemic directorate hampered the administration’s response in the early stages of the outbreak.
President Donald Trump and administration officials have rejected such claims, saying they acted quickly to save lives, especially once the true nature of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus, became clear. Trump has blamed both the Chinese regime and the World Health Organization (WHO) for mishandling the outbreak.
“The world is paying a very big price for that they did,” Trump said at a March 17 briefing, referring to his claim that Chinese officials did not fully share information sooner about the outbreak after it started spreading in Wuhan.
“It could have been stopped right where it came from, China,” he added.
As regards the WHO, Trump said at an April 7 briefing at the White House, “They did give us some pretty bad play calling.”
“With regard to us, they’re taking a lot of heat because they didn’t want the borders closed, they called it wrong,” Trump said.
Romney and Murphy said one of the aims of the post of coordinator would be to implement the Global Health Security Agenda, a supra-national initiative launched by over 30 countries in 2014 to tackle global infectious disease threats.
“Our priority right now should be taking decisive action to contain COVID-19’s spread and rescuing our economy. But if we don’t also spend time fixing the gaps in our global pandemic response leadership, we’re at risk of going through this nightmare all over again. Pandemics don’t run on schedules, and so we need to start the job of reform now,” Murphy said.
A similar bill was earlier introduced in the House as part of a bipartisan initiative by Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio).
“Unfortunately, almost 70 percent of the world’s nations are underprepared to manage or control outbreaks. By recognizing the critical role of U.S. leadership in international health security, enshrining U.S. global health security policy in statute, and ensuring that there is a permanent designated official responsible for coordinating these efforts in a strategic way, our legislation makes sure the United States is never caught off guard by future public health crises,” Connolly said.
“The Global Health Security Act provides a critical bipartisan endorsement to prioritize the U.S. government’s response to epidemics like the coronavirus,” said Chabot. “As the coronavirus continues to sweep the globe, we need to take this opportunity to recommit to leadership on health security and prepare ourselves for the next pandemic. Protecting our nation’s health must be seen as a national security priority.”
The CCP virus has spread aggressively across the United States, with Johns Hopkins figures on Saturday noting over 500,000 infections and more than 18,000 deaths.