What Joe Biden Caving on the Eviction Moratorium Really Means

(Christian Gooden/St. Louis Post-Dispatch via AP, File)

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden, using the increase in positive tests related to the Delta variant of COVID-19 as a pretext, ordered the CDC to extend the eviction moratorium. Moody’s and the Urban Institute estimate that 9.4 million households owe back rent, with a total price tag of $52.6 billion. The extension will allow these renters to dig a hole deeper than the estimated average of $5,586 they already owe. What this says about how the administration works is the important lesson.

In a press briefing on August 3, Biden said he sought out constitutional scholars to determine the boundaries of executive action on the issue. Most of these experts told Biden it was not likely to pass constitutional muster, but he asked the CDC to look at the options they had. Biden added that, even if it is unconstitutional, it would take a while to go through the courts.

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That evening the CDC issued a new moratorium, with CDC Director Rochelle Walensky saying it was to keep people out of congregate settings:

An order issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) Tuesday evening generally bans the eviction of non-paying tenants in counties identified by the CDC as having “substantial” or “high” rates of COVID-19 transmission. About 90 percent of the counties in the country, per the CDC order, meet that definition.

Was there a brief period early in the pandemic when this was reasonable, at least until government payments caught up? Perhaps, and it is likely landlords would have worked with tenants in that emergency situation. Now, small mom-and-pop landlords who make up about half the market have been hit too hard themselves. Rental property is a legitimate investment that people rely on in retirement and other situations.

The extension is unconscionable in an economy being held back by people refusing to return to the workforce. Anyone whose housing was at risk due to pandemic unemployment received enhanced payments and lost their excuse months ago. Between enhanced payments and no obligation to pay rent, people made some terrible choices–and the bill will come due at some point.

However, the extension clarified how our government is working in the Biden administration–and it is terrifying. The expiration was expected, and the amount of news coverage indicated that it was inevitable. The CDC made no moves to extend the moratorium in the lead-up to the July 31 expiration. The executive branch had some indication of how the legal proceeding would work out.

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The Supreme Court had declined to lift a stay on a lower court ruling that the moratorium was not authorized by the Public Health Service Act. Judge Brett Kavanaugh issued a short opinion that agreed with the lower court’s ruling but allowed the program to expire. He wrote, “In my view, clear and specific congressional authorization [via new legislation] would be necessary for the CDC to extend the moratorium past July 31.” Kavanaugh joined Justice Roberts and the liberal justices, while Justices Thomas, Alito, Gorsuch, and Barrett thought the court should lift the stay.

It was known that if Congress didn’t act, the moratorium would end. The House adjourned for the August break, and many members left Washington, D.C., when the chamber gaveled out. Then the Squad started squawking. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez  went on television, and Representative Cori Bush planned a sleepover on the Capitol steps.

They pressured Speaker Nancy Pelosi to call the House back into session to extend the moratorium. Pelosi started pointing fingers at the White House to deflect, insisting the Biden administration fix the problem. The pressure ramped up over the weekend and on Monday.

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Therein lies the two really important lessons. First, Congress has no interest in legislating on contentious issues. They prefer to punt to the executive branch and unelected bureaucrats and have the courts figure it out. Here is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer praising Bush for her pressure campaign and hugging Ocasio-Cortez so he did not have to get his hands dirty:

Second, the radical left is driving the policies of the administration. Two socialists pushed their boss to run for cover by blaming the administration. Shrill fingerpointing forced the White House to order the bureaucracy to do something they know is beyond their authority. And everyone will sit around waiting for nine unelected justices to make it right.

It sounds like it’s all going just as the founders intended, doesn’t it?