A sign CMS' vaccine mandate is no sure thing

The Biden administration is considering a Republican proposal to strike the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for the U.S. military, a development that signals future possibility of reversal of the same mandate for healthcare workers. 

President Joe Biden and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., discussed the retention of the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccination rule — rolled out in August 2021 — as part of building a pathway that would secure Republican votes for passage of a $847 billion, end-of-year National Defense Authorization Act. Mr. McCarthy claims he worked out the arrangement directly with the president to lift the requirement, while the White House was more limited in saying the proposal was under consideration, according to The Washington Post

The development runs parallel to the movement that could be possible with another government-issued COVID-19 vaccine mandate — that of HHS for healthcare workers. In November 2021, HHS announced that healthcare facilities that receive Medicare and Medicaid funding must ensure that staff are vaccinated against COVID–19, save for medical or religious exemptions. 

GOP leaders have argued that the mandates governing vaccinations for troops, healthcare workers and others amount to federal overreach. One of the main supporting arguments has been how vaccination rules have harmed recruitment and retention, both for the military and in healthcare. They assert that the policies have forced the discharge of thousands of military service members, and especially "devastated" small, rural and community-based healthcare facilities. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court declined a case brought by 10 states challenging the COVID-19 vaccination rule in October, a coalition of 22 states filed a petition in November seeking to repeal the rule. The group is led by Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen, whose signature on the petition is joined by that from attorneys general in Louisiana, Tennessee, Arizona, Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Virginia and Wyoming.

Mr. McCarthy, who aims to become speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, may see his push to repeal the Pentagon's COVID-19 vaccine mandate complicated by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin's call to maintain it, which he expressed to reporters over the weekend. "I support continuation of vaccinating the troops," he said, according to ABC News.  

A White House spokesperson told Reuters that the president supports the defense secretary’s position. Discussions about the National Defense Authorization Act are ongoing. 

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