JERSEY CITY, N.J. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) penned the following op-ed published in New York Times calling on Congress to support the creation of an independent, 9/11-style commission to assess the U.S. pandemic response and ensure the country is better prepared to confront future public health and economic crises. The senators have introduced the National Coronavirus Commission Act, the only bipartisan, bicameral legislation of its kind.
By Bob Menendez and Susan Collins
The devastating events of Sept. 11, 2001, shook the United States to its core and sparked immediate and consequential actions to protect American lives. Congress formed the independent 9/11 Commission to investigate the security missteps that contributed to the attack and to issue prescriptions for what we as a country could do better to prevent future acts of foreign terrorism on American soil. The commission released a series of recommendations, many of which were adopted quickly, to tighten security and improve interdepartmental information sharing and coordination.
The death toll from the Covid-19 pandemic is more than 200 times that of the 9/11 attacks — but Congress has yet to establish a similar blue ribbon commission to investigate the vulnerabilities of our public health system and issue guidance for how we as a nation can better protect the American people from future pandemics.
We are just now beginning to emerge from a pandemic that has already claimed more than 600,000 mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, spouses, friends, neighbors and co-workers in the United States alone. Tragically, it will claim even more lives before it’s over. The economic costs of the pandemic have yet to be fully realized, even though we have finally begun to reopen, owing to the swift pace of vaccinations and the flow of billions of dollars in stimulus money into the economy. But it isn’t too soon to call for an independent, 9/11-style commission.
Abroad, Covid-19 continues to kill thousands of people a day and infect hundreds of thousands more. Here at home, we are racing to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants. Health care workers are grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder and the strain on our families, our children and our economy has been enormous.
We should do everything in our power to prevent our country and our communities, small businesses and families from enduring a similar ordeal again, because it’s not a matter of if but when another pandemic or public health emergency will strike. That is why we introduced the National Coronavirus Commission Act. Tom Malinowski, Democrat of New Jersey, and Mario Diaz-Balart, Republican of Florida, introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives, making the act the only bipartisan, bicameral legislation of its kind.
The 9/11 Commission, led by former representative Lee Hamilton and former governor Tom Kean, conducted a thorough investigation of the events leading up to the terror attacks. It attracted leading experts, acted independently from politics and is considered to be the gold standard for bipartisan commissions to this day. Our legislation will bring this same comprehensive approach to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The bill creates an independent, nonpartisan commission to assess the U.S. pandemic response. It will illuminate our successes and uncover our failures, and it will provide Congress with actionable recommendations to improve our readiness and prevent future public health crises and the massive loss of life we have suffered from Covid-19.
The commission will have a broad mandate to investigate our pandemic response from all angles
The commission will have a broad mandate to investigate our pandemic response from all angles, including international disease surveillance; federal, state and local government coordination; private sector engagement; and vaccine development and distribution. It will also examine why some of our communities, especially communities of color, experienced disproportionately higher rates of sickness, death and economic harm.
We believe that, in the aftermath of this public health and economic catastrophe, we must once again come together in a bipartisan way to do serious and necessary work to save American lives.
Covid-19 is not the first pandemic to hit our shores, and it won’t be the last. Scientists predict that pandemic diseases will become more common in the 21st century, and we must be far better prepared for the next one. That is why a comprehensive analysis of our Covid-19 response is critical to ensuring our readiness and safeguarding our nation’s long-term health, security and economic interests.
We were both deeply engaged in implementing the 9/11 Commission’s recommendations, which is why we are equally committed to protecting this nation and its people from future pandemics. We believe that, in the aftermath of this public health and economic catastrophe, we must once again come together in a bipartisan way to do serious and necessary work to save American lives.
We urge all our colleagues in Congress to join us in supporting the National Coronavirus Commission Act. This is not about pointing fingers but learning from our shared experiences and committing to do better by our fellow Americans.
We must meet the urgency of this moment, examine the U.S. response to Covid-19 and learn from our mistakes. After burying more than 600,000 of our loved ones, it is the very least we can do.