Reopening America: A Political Football Game

 

The Covid-19 social distancing restrictions have shut down many businesses including virtually the entire sports world. While most Americans are anxious to see this end soon, the Democratic party leadership has decided to make the reopening of America a political football game.

There can be no doubt that America must reopen its economy soon. This week the number of new claims for unemployment reached 22 million Americans. Protests have already begun in some cities, most noticeably Detroit where Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer has enforced some of the most draconian measures. This past week thousands drove to Lansing to jam traffic, honk horns and wave posters from car windows, in what the Detroit News called “one of the largest protests at the state Capitol in a decade.” Other states experiencing protests include New York and California.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer clearly see this virus pandemic as a “crisis that should not be wasted.” Initially, they tried to pad the Congressional response for stimulus money, known as the CARES Act, with pork for unrelated Democratic agenda items including the Green New Deal and corporate diversity commitments. Currently they are holding up additional funding for the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), which supplies loan/grants for small businesses affected by the shutdown. The original $350 Billion allocated by Congress has been spent and an additional $250 Billion is being held in limbo by Democrats demanding more state funding while small businesses lay off workers or close their doors.

The Wall Street Journal editorial board says these demands of the Democrats are politically motivated. Congress already provides about a third of all state funding, and the $2.2 trillion CARES Act passed out more: $150 billion in direct aid, $260 billion in new unemployment funds, $45 billion for disaster relief, and $30 billion for education. States and their residents are also getting $100 billion for hospitals, $225 billion for public transportation, $8 billion for tribal governments, and a 6.2 percentage point increase in Medicaid. Much of this money hasn’t even gone out the door, yet.

They encouraged President Trump to hold firm on his request for the extra $250 billion for PPP without giving in to the Democratic demands for more state funding. They explain, “Democratic governors in particular won’t take the political risk of restarting their economies against liberal opposition if they know the feds will underwrite the cost of lockdowns. By handing more money to states, Mr. Trump will be giving up the only leverage he has over governors to reopen. He’s also making it less likely ill-governed states will reform their pensions or taxes.”

Kimberley A. Strassel, writing in The Wall Street Journal, accuses Pelosi and Schumer of “moving the goal posts” in this political football game. The initial goal of the shutdown was to “flatten the curve” to make sure there were adequate medical facilities and equipment to handle the viral pandemic demands. The guidelines achieved this purpose, successfully flattening the curve while avoiding any medical rationing that might have occurred with a shortage of hospital beds and respirators.

But now these Democratic leaders want to raise the bar by demanding the president provide “a robust testing and contact tracing system be in place that guarantees Americans a safe reentry into their normal life.”  They want to deny Trump any credit for success by redefining the goal.

Strassel explains, “By these standards, no lockdown may end until the Trump administration can “guarantee” a “safe” world in which people return to “normal.” The feds must stand up a testing system capable of hunting down and snuffing out each new infection. There can be no more outbreaks, and reopening cannot “significantly add” to existing counts (and the press reserves the authority to define “significantly.”) The unsaid corollary is that Mr. Trump will be held politically responsible for reopening in any way that fails to meet these baselines – on the hook for each subsequent death.”

Anyone who understands the nature of viral pandemics realizes that it is impossible to prevent future infections from occurring. It is the natural course of disease that others will become infected. The shutdown never was intended to eliminate the disease, but rather to control the spread in a way that did not overwhelm the medical system. The disease will never be eradicated until an effective vaccine is developed, which will take at least another 12 – 18 months.

This week the Trump administration and Corona Virus Task Force announced Opening Up America Again, their plans to reopen the economy and gradually eliminate the shutdown regulations. In typical Trump fashion, he initially insisted the timing of reopening was his call alone, and not the decision of state governors. But in the actual announcement, Trump laid out the federal guidelines developed by the Task Force and then deferred the timing to the governors alone; a politically astute decision that spreads any blame for failure with the states.

The reopening plan is in three Phases, each requiring eligibility by successfully passing through a “gate.” When a state achieves the required virus statistical mandates of each gate, they can proceed to the next Phase. Each Phase allows a gradual loosening of social distancing, business and travel restrictions as the risk of viral spread diminishes. By Phase Three, states can return to a near normal existence, while maintaining awareness of those good habits that helped slow the spread of the virus in the first place.

Opening Up America Again is the product of the Corona Virus Task Force and was developed with the close cooperation of medical experts including Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Jerome Adams. It is intended to reopen the American economy gradually over time and in accordance with the risk associated with regional and local viral prevalence, thus providing the safest possible return to some semblance of normalcy. It is disappointing in the extreme to see politicians try to take advantage of this important time in our country’s history to score political points.

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