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Editorial: Will Biden one day regret an employer mandate?

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Jacob Owens
Editor

President Joe Biden recently unveiled the most aggressive measures of his presidency to try to gain control of the COVID-19 pandemic, taking aim at workers through federal regulations that could penalize their employers for their hesitancy.

The impetus for the president’s actions targeting the nation’s largest employers as well as virtually all health care workers and many in the federal workplace is clear: the pandemic is worsening.

In Delaware, and many of the areas surrounding us, it may not feel so dire as the scenes we read about and see in Texas and Florida, where hospital intensive care units are being pushed to their max. While new cases are falling in much of the South in recent days, they are growing in Appalachia, the Mountain West, and other areas. Delaware’s positive cases are also rising in recent weeks, filling more hospital beds across the state and leading to some deaths.

In short, this is not a Southern problem, and it is not an exaggeration. The current surge is only dwarfed by the surge in cases we saw in January before vaccines were widely available.

The vast majority of new COVID cases are among the nearly 80 million Americans who are eligible for a vaccination but have chosen not to receive one. The reasons for that hesitancy vary widely, from understandable concerns about chronic health conditions to ridiculous conspiracy theories not worth repeating. Public health experts agree though that our best chance to get out of this pandemic is to continue getting as many people vaccinated as possible.

All of these factors give credence to Biden’s desire to push the limits of his presidential powers to compel Americans to get vaccinated.

As the saying goes, however, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

I’ve been on record supporting employers in their decision to mandate vaccines and have encouraged more to consider them as a way to encourage further inoculation. Businesses are legally allowed to require their employees to take necessary precautions to protect the workforce, and that ability is even more important now as companies navigate a turbulent, pandemic-afflicted economy.

For many people though, there is a big difference in having a private employer make that decision versus the president making it for them. Vaccination has unfortunately become politicized, and Republican governors and senators who are eyeing a run at the White House in 2024 and pundits seeking airtime have no qualms wielding it as a cudgel.

In announcing the new measures Sept. 9, Biden said, “This is not about freedom or personal choice. It’s about protecting yourself and those around you – the people you work with, the people you care about, the people you love.”

To those who are adamantly opposed to vaccination, however, the debate is more about personal choice than anything else. Some will surely acquiesce and agree to get vaccinated rather than undergo testing, but others will choose the inconvenience or leave their job altogether. In fact, a Washington Post-ABC poll in late August found that, if no medical or religious exemption was given, 72% of unvaccinated workers would quit their jobs rather than get vaccinated.

Only 14 months from the midterm election of his presidency, Biden’s intervention will likely be a major topic on the lips of candidates next year. Presidents typically see party losses in their first midterm elections as it is, and with an even 50-50 split in the Senate and only a three-seat advantage in the House, Democrats may be ruing the employer mandate come next winter.

After months of his administration declaring that it would not issue a national vaccination mandate, many voters will see Biden’s announcement as a reversal. Thirty years ago, President George H.W. Bush learned a difficult lesson about failing to uphold a promise made to the American people when he was routed in a re-election bid by a young Bill Clinton after breaking his “no new taxes” pledge.

With patience worn thin, Biden has dropped his nice Uncle Joe coercion strategy on vaccinations in favor of a Scranton tough-guy approach. Only time will tell if voters make him regret it.

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