Supreme Court Blocks Biden’s Covid Vaccine Mandate for Large Employers
In a major blow to President Joe Biden’s effort to combat the spread of Covid-19, the U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday rejected his vaccine mandate for large private employers, which would have affected more than 84 million workers.
In a 6-3 vote, the court’s conservatives expressed doubts that the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration had the legal authority to impose a broad mandate on companies with 100 or more employees. Workers would have been required to get vaccinated against Covid-19 or submit to regular testing for the virus, and to wear masks in the workplace.
“Although Congress has indisputably given OSHA the power to regulate occupational dangers, it has not given that agency the power to regulate public health more broadly,” the court said.
At the same time, in a 5-3 vote, the court upheld a similar mandate affecting roughly 17 million health care workers at facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding. “Ensuring that providers take steps to avoid transmitting a dangerous virus to their patients is consistent with the fundamental principle of the medical profession: first, do no harm,” the court said in a separate opinion.
A victory for business interests and conservatives: The legal effort to halt the mandate was led by 26 business groups and 27 Republican-led states, who sued OSHA, charging that the agency was exceeding its legal authority.
“Today’s ruling protects our individual rights and states’ rights to pursue the solutions that work best for their citizens,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, who helped organize the suit.
Several provisions of the mandate were set to take effect this week, although enforcement was not expected to begin until February. The Biden administration estimated that the mandate would spur 22 million additional vaccinations and prevent 250,000 hospitalizations and more than 6,000 deaths.
Biden responds: Saying that the ruling “does not stop me from using my voice as president to advocate for employers to do the right thing to protect Americans’ health and economy,” Biden encouraged states and companies to issue mandates on their own.
“I am disappointed that the Supreme Court has chosen to block common-sense life-saving requirements for employees at large businesses that were grounded squarely in both science and the law,” Biden said in a statement. “As a result of the court’s decision, it is now up to states and individual employers to determine whether to make their workplaces as safe as possible for employees, and whether their businesses will be safe for consumers during this pandemic by requiring employees to take the simple and effective step of getting vaccinated.”
Biden Announces New Plans to Combat Pandemic
Notwithstanding the setback from the Supreme Court on his vaccine mandate, Biden on Thursday announced new initiatives in the federal government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Declaring that wearing a mask during the pandemic is a “patriotic duty,” Biden said he has plans to distribute free "high-quality masks" to all Americans, with more details on the program coming next week. He also ordered the federal government to purchase an additional 500 million Covid tests, to be shipped directly to households at no cost.
Biden also announced that he is sending more medical teams from the military to six hard-hit areas. The teams will support the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, Coney Island Hospital in Brooklyn, Rhode Island Hospital in Providence, Henry Ford Hospital near Detroit, University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and University Hospital in Newark, New Jersey.
Biden said the deployments are in addition to the hundreds of medical personnel already sent to 24 states, as well as 14,000 National Guard members who are assisting medical teams throughout the country.
Column of the Day: Questioning the Pentagon’s Massive Budget
New York Times columnist Farhad Manjoo slams lawmakers for approving $768 billion in 2022 funding for the Pentagon — $24 billion more than the White House requested.
Manjoo argues that the military “has become the epitome of governmental dysfunction, self-dealing and overspending” and that, despite that track record, many in Congress fail to question whether the military really needs all the money it gets. “Given all the challenges we face at home, does it make any sense to keep spending so many hundreds of billions on the Pentagon?” he asks. “And even just in terms of fighting wars, can anyone be satisfied with the way the military is managing its funds? The Pentagon has never passed an audit and says it may not be able to until 2028.”
Here’s more from Manjoo:
Quote of the Day
“We are seeing the strongest rebound in growth and decline in unemployment of any recovery in the past five decades. Over the past year, unemployment has fallen by 2.8 percentage points, and growth is estimated to be around 5 1/2 percent, according to a variety of private forecasts.
“But inflation is too high, and working people around the country are concerned about how far their paychecks will go. Our monetary policy is focused on getting inflation back down to 2 percent while sustaining a recovery that includes everyone. This is our most important task.”
— Federal Reserve Governor Lael Brainard, in prepared remarks for an appearance before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Thursday. Nominated by President Biden to serve as vice chair of the central bank, Brainard told lawmakers that the Fed could begin raising interest rates as soon as March as part of its effort to reduce inflation.
- Sinema Reiterates Opposition to Eliminating Filibuster, Probably Dooming Democrats’ Voting Rights Push – Washington Post
- Negotiators Report Progress Toward 2022 Spending Deal – The Hill
- Restaurants Could Get Another $40 Billion Financial Lifeline From Congress – Roll Call
- Price Spikes Threaten to Ground Biden's Big-Spending Plans – Politico
- Alzheimer’s Groups Vow to Fight Proposed Medicare Restrictions on Controversial Drug – Washington Post
- Senate Panel OKs Califf Nomination for F.D.A. Chief – New York Times
- Top GOP Hawks Warn Biden Against Nuclear Cuts – Politico
- IRS Targets Your Side Hustle in Crackdown on Transactions Over $600 – Bloomberg
- ‘We’re Overwhelmed:’ Nurses Strike Across the U.S. to Protest Covid Working Conditions – Bloomberg
- Hundreds of Millions of Covid Vaccine Doses Risk Going to Waste – Bloomberg
- Omicron Waves Appear to Slow in New York City, Other Major Metropolitan Areas – Washington Post
Views and Analysis
- Democratic Inaction Will Lead Us Back to Austerity – David Dayen, The American Prospect
- Down but Not Out: Dems Plot Course for Child Tax Credit as Payments End – Brian Faler, Politico
- The E-Word Is Poised for a Capitol Hill Comeback – Paul Kane, Washington Post
- Why the White House Sees Cause for Optimism on Inflation – Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
- Health-Care Costs Have Escaped Massive Inflation -- So Far – Rachel Roubein, Washington Post
- The Experts Are Finally Grasping the Real Reason for Inflation. Now, It’s Time to Act. – Henry Olsen, Washington Post
- As Inflation Soars, the Fed Needs to Keep Its Head – Bloomberg Editorial Board
- The Republicans’ Death Panel Finally Emerges! – Harold Meyerson, American Prospect
- New Fatalism Creeps Into Remarks From Biden, Fauci About Covid – Olivier Knox, Washington Post
- Finding a Surprising Story in a Stack of Medical Bills – Sarah Kliff, New York Times
- Two Things We Learned From Senate Hearings About Build Back Better and the Fed's Approach to Climate Change – Maxine Joselow, Washington Post