What The Federal Government Didn’t Do

The Coronavirus is not the fault of one person or facet of government – but that’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement on how we as a country handled the pandemic. Trump seems to think otherwise, when asked how he would grade his handling of the pandemic he boastfully graded himself an A+, saying he did “not just a good job, but a phenomenal job”. Does 200K lives lost really warrant an A+ mark?

Here are some reasons why Trump and his administration don’t deserve the glowing reviews they’re granting themselves.

The first failure of this administration in regard to COVID-19 came before the virus even arrived on American soil. Since Trump took office the CDC’s budget has been repeatedly slashed. In September the Trump administration cut a $200 million program called Predict which was an early warning program designed to track and alert the United States about possible pandemic threats.  The Predict program had successfully identified 160 coronaviruses that posed the threat of the pandemic, including the closest known relative to COVID-19.Had the program remained active, we would’ve had boots on the ground in China which would’ve allowed us to better prepare and deal with the pandemic.

The next failure stems from a delayed reaction. On January 22nd, President Trump made his first public comments about the Coronavirus saying, “we have it totally under control”. While that may have been true at that time, the situation was expected to escalate quickly, which it did. Trump’s earliest actions were on January 31st when he implemented a travel ban on China. The travel ban was described as an “emotional and political reaction” by r. Michael T. Osterholm, an epidemiologist and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota. A travel ban is not enough to stop a pandemic. The travel ban didn’t stop US citizens and close relatives of US citizens from traveling between the countries. The month before the travel ban was instated, 300,000 people came from China to the United States, meaning the official travel ban addressed the problem too late. A travel ban is one piece of the puzzle, and without the other steps it’s practically void.

Those other steps include testing. Without adequate testing the virus becomes impossible to trace, therefore impossible to slow the spread. We lagged behind most developed countries to meet the adequate testing threshold. It took us 55 days to get 1 test per 1000 residents, placing us second to last on the list of 23 countries that met this threshold. Had the Trump administration ramped up testing when they were warned about the pandemic in January, we could’ve met the threshold before the Coronavirus started to spread in a serious way.

The solution to testing and PPE shortages could’ve been an easy fix; enact the Defense Production Act. The Trump administration waited until April 2nd to invoke the Defense Production Act and then didn’t enforce it. The DPA gives the executive branch authority to command industry to make necessary supplies to protect national security. States spent weeks and sometimes months fighting over supplies when the DPA could have streamlined the entire process.

Another shortcoming from the Trump administration is his unwillingness to bail out state and local governments. State and local governments have balanced budget requirements that don’t allow them run a deficit in the same way the federal government can. The CARES act provided $150 billion to state governments, but it wasn’t enough. With a massive decline in state revenue, ranging from an expected 6%-35% decline during this year alone, and an increase in costs due to COVID-19, states are running out of money. In order to keep their budgets balanced mass layoffs have occurred. State and local governments have been forced to cut the payroll for over 1 million employees, representing 5.2% of non federal government employment.  Leadership comes from the top, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. While state governments play a huge role in the handling of the pandemic, the federal government ultimately oversees the entire operation and has necessary powers that state governments do not possess.

As for Congress, it’s October and they have still been unable to come together to pass a crucial additional stimulus package that would speed the recovery of both our public health and our economy–both of which are intertwined and dependent on each other. Even now, as Democrats have put forward an updated version of the HEROES Act which passed in the House in May and includes additional stimulus checks, a total eviction moratorium and $600/week in additional unemployment aid, it looks unlikely to pass in the Senate.

No one’s blaming President Trump for the pandemic itself or for Congress’ actions, but to say the execution of the response was flawless, or even competent, simply isn’t true. The most desirable trait in a leader, especially the President, is humility. Trump has shown his inability to be “humble in victory and gracious in defeat”, even with the specter of over 210,000 American lives lost shadowing his mismanagement of the crisis. We need Congress to come together and do right by the American people and a president that puts the health of his country over their ego and party lines.

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