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House Republicans quash CDC request for more authorities

Republicans say the agency should not be given more authority after its handling of the pandemic

Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, criticized the CDC at a hearing Wednesday for not providing Congress with enough information on how it plans to overhaul itself in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 
Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Va., the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee, criticized the CDC at a hearing Wednesday for not providing Congress with enough information on how it plans to overhaul itself in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lobbies Congress this summer to expand its data authorities and capabilities, it’s clear the agency won’t get much support from Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee.

Subcommittee Republicans at a Wednesday hearing criticized the public health agency for not providing Congress with enough information on how it plans to overhaul itself in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Until we get full cooperation, the CDC requests for new legal authorities cannot and will not move forward,” Subcommittee Chair Morgan Griffith, R-Va., said during the hearing, titled “Assessing CDC’s Failures in Fulfilling its Mission.”

No representatives from the agency were invited to testify.

The agency is poised to spend this summer lobbying Congress to increase its funding and authorities via two must-pass bills: the reauthorization of a pandemic preparedness law which expires on Sept. 30, and fiscal 2024 appropriations legislation.

Outgoing CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who is leaving at the end of this month, has asked Congress to give the CDC more authority to improve data reporting from states and medical providers as part of these bills. 

Full committee Chair Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., said she’s concerned that expanded data authorities could hurt individuals’ privacy. She also accused the agency of exerting too much control over Americans’ daily lives during the pandemic.

Walensky launched an initiative to overhaul the agency earlier this year. Members on both sides of the aisle said that changes are sorely needed, but Democrats on the subcommittee were generally supportive of the agency’s efforts thus far.

Republicans, however, seemed to suggest the agency could not do the task on its own. Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., said Congress needs to take a bigger role in the CDC’s reorganization and restructuring.

“This is not about villainizing the CDC. This is about accountability,” Guthrie said. 

He said many of the agency’s trust issues existed before COVID-19.

The full committee’s top Democrat, Frank Pallone Jr. of New Jersey, criticized committee Republicans for not inviting Walensky to the hearing. Walensky testified before the subcommittee in February. 

“I don’t know how we can make improvements on the CDC when we disagree on everything that happened at the CDC during the COVID crisis,” Pallone said.