23 March 2020


Cogito Ergo Non Serviam

Federal Failure in Pandemic Response


The United States federal government has so far failed in responding to the pandemic. Whatever leadership there is resides in the state and local governments. Mainly, this is a failing of the White House, but Congress is at fault as well. Both Democrats and Republicans bear some responsibility, and the failings are going to cost lives. The electorate should bear this in mind in November.

The main disaster is the president himself. Robbed of his ego-stroking rallies among his adoring fans, he has decided that he will get his attention fix every day with a press briefing. At these meetings, he and his team fail to practice social distancing. He makes up facts or straight out lies about the actions of the federal government in addressing the problem. He is focused on the economic impact that the pandemic is having on the country; while important, the economic troubles will go away along with the outbreak. If he were to fix the medical problems, the economy would improve.

Even as he claims to be a wartime president, Mr. Trump is failing to utilize the powers one such president would have. The Defense Production Act would allow him to order private businesses to produce things like ventilators, hospital masks, and other useful equipment. He invoked the DPA last week but has not commanded anyone to produce anything. The argument being made is that the threat of making the private sector produce these things is sufficient to get them to voluntarily do so. One is still waiting to hear how an unsupervised private sector will produce 3.5 billion masks in the next 12 months.

Although a fish rots from the head, the rot extends well beyond the head. So, too, does a failing government fail at lower levels than the White House. The Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Department of Homeland Security seem unable to decide what they exist to do. The National Institutes of Health should be out front on this, but the Food and Drug Administration seems to be getting in the way. There may be good administrative reasons for the FDA to lead the charge, but the fact is, no one is leading anything in the bureaucracy.

To the extent that anyone in government is doing anything useful, the governors and mayors of America are taking the lead. Andrew Cuomo of New York and Gavin Newsom of California have their states under a shelter-in-place system. Restaurants, theatres, gyms and other non-essential businesses are closed. The trouble is that Nevada is not under such an order, nor Arizona or Oregon. So the utility of the California move is reduced. A similar situation exists in the east where New York and New Jersey are operating under these conditions but apart from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is not. New England may prove to be amenable to a shut-down of some sort, but as yet, the question is open. A national shut-down would be much more effective.

At the same time, governors and mayors can only do so much. They usually operate under balanced-budget laws, meaning that deficit spending that could keep local hospital systems afloat is not an option. They cannot compel businesses to produce medically necessary items. In short, they are helpful but they should not be the first line of defense.

Congress can make all of that happen. It can pass laws, and it can appropriate funds. Yet a $1.8-2.0 trillion funding bill has failed to pass the US Senate. The sticking point is the $500 billion fund that can be used largely at the discretion of the Secretary of the Treasury. The Democrats want more oversight of how that money is allocated. They are right. The question is whether they have a positive proposal that the Republicans could accept. A compromise of some sort is needed, and the two sides seem to be dug in. This does the nation no good at all. No one should have half a trillion to hand out as he or she pleases, and by the same token, a long review process to ensure every penny is wisely used is the perfect becoming the enemy of the good.

Here is the dreadful truth. In a nation of 330 million, an infection rate of just on 30% and a mortality rage of 1% means a million dead. Without masks, ventilators and a lock-down, the infection rate could be 80% and the mortality rate 2% or 5.4 million dead. A good government response keeps to the lower end of that range. The current ineptitude suggests the higher end is coming.

© Copyright 2020 by The Kensington Review, Jeff Myhre, PhD, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent. Produced using Ubuntu Linux.

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