The Biden administration’s vaccine mandate for employers with more than 100 workers has been submitted to the White House Budget Office for a final review before it is published for public inspection, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Wednesday.
On 9 September, President Joe Biden announced his intention to have the Occupational Safety and Health Agency – an agency under the auspices of the Department of Labour that regulates workplace safety – to issue an emergency regulation requiring entities with more than 100 employees to require that those employees be vaccinated against Covid-19 or undergo weekly testing for the virus. The announcement came after months of administration efforts to encourage voluntary vaccination, but when he unveiled his plan for the mandate, Mr Biden expressed frustration with the significant numbers of Americans who’ve chosen to remain unvaccinated.
“We’ve been patient, but our patience is wearing thin, and your refusal has cost all of us,” Mr Biden said at the time.
Ms Psaki told reporters at the White House’s daily press briefing that OSHA had submitted an initial draft of the new rule to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, a division of the White House budget office. Under a Clinton-era executive order, the office is charged with conducting a cost-benefit analysis of proposed rules that could have an annual economic effect of more than $100 million.
“We don’t, as a long-standing practice, comment on the timeline of how long that takes because we want to allow that process to happen,” Ms Psaki said when asked about the timeline for the review process to be finished. “But … it should be an indication that it’s there and now it is being reviewed, and once it is finalized and through the OIRA process and reviewed it will be posted publicly in the Federal Register and you will all have access to every detail of it”.
The day before, Ms Psaki said officials at OSHA and the Labour Department have been taking extreme care during the drafting process because “there isn’t a big historic precedent” for such a regulation.
“We want to get it right, and the team at OSHA, the team at the Department of Labor wants to get it right, wants to be able to create some clarity for businesses around the country,” she said.
In a statement to The Independent, a Labour Department spokesperson said OSHA “has been working expeditiously to develop an emergency temporary standard that covers employers with 100 or more employees to ensure their workers are fully vaccinated or undergo weekly testing to protect employees from the spread of coronavirus in the workplace,” and confirmed that the initial text of the proposed rule was submitted to OIRA on 12 October.
According to White House Covid-19 coordinator Jeff Zients, more than 3,500 organisations – including businesses, hospitals, schools, and local government entities – have already implemented some form of vaccination mandate, and have seen a more than 20 per cent increase in vaccination rates as a result.
Mr Biden has made such mandates a centerpiece of his administration’s “Path Out of the Pandemic” plan, yet the new rules will surely face resistance from officials in so-called “red” states that are controlled by Republicans, many of whom have made resistance to the Covid-19 vaccine into an article of political faith.
Earlier this week, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an order purporting to ban any entity – including private businesses – from requiring vaccines of employees or customers, and asked the Texas legislature to enact a law expanding such a ban.
Two of Texas’ biggest employers, Southwest and American Airlines, are already required to vaccinate their employees by a separate Biden administration order mandating vaccinations for federal contractors’ workers. Both have announced that they are ignoring the governor’s order and continuing to follow federal requirements.