And Trump called for the nation to “put politics aside” and “stop the partisanship,” but then turned around and quote-tweeted a ham-handed attack on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered by (of all people at this grave moment) one of his favorite cheerleading personalities on Fox News.
Amid all this flailing, House Democrats have now put forth their blueprint for responding to the crisis. It’s better understood as a lifeline — and one hopes Trump will grab on to it immediately, if not for the country’s good, then for his own, if that’s the only thing that will motivate him to do so.
He may have no choice.
A House Democratic aide tells me that if the White House and Republicans respond to the package in bad faith and/or reject large portions of it, rather than negotiate in good faith over how to adjust it narrowly, Democrats will vote it through and dump it in Trump’s lap.
“If they don’t budge, the House will pass our bill and force the president and Republicans to explain their inaction,” the aide told me.
The response package from House Democrats includes funding for free coronavirus testing for all who need it; paid emergency leave for workers; expanded unemployment insurance and food and nutrition assistance; and increased funding for Medicaid.
The Democratic response is best understood as resting on several core principles — ones that Trump, at least so far, doesn’t appear to share. These principles help clarify the argument.
Anyone who needs a coronavirus test should be able to get one.
The Democratic plan makes coronavirus tests free to anyone who seeks one by requiring private plans to cover them and, crucially, by providing federal money for states to fund Medicaid to cover tests for the uninsured.
The core idea here is that, if our most pressing problem right now with coronavirus is its spread in the United States, making testing immediately available to all can help induce people to limit contact with others and mitigate that spread.
There are still looming questions about how to make enough test kits available to dramatically ramp up testing. But that’s less a government resource problem than a management one. As a Twitter thread from Scott Gottlieb explains, a combination of private-sector and government action should be able to solve it.
Aid must be targeted to the most vulnerable populations — and the states.
Providing federal money to cover increased Medicaid spending on coronavirus by states is arguably the most important element of the Democratic proposal, argues Jason Furman, an economics professor at Harvard who advised former president Barack Obama.
“The Medicaid population is a very vulnerable population,” Furman told me. “And most of the states are very vulnerable.”
As Fruman noted, it’s likely that sales tax revenue will start falling very quickly as people wheel back spending amid the escalating crisis. The states must know more money is on the way so they can increase spending on coronavirus responses — right now.
“If the states know more money is coming a month from now, they won’t be afraid to spend money,” Furman said.
The pandemic demonstrates the need for a much stronger safety net.
In addition to identifying gaping holes in the safety net that would be filled by more Medicaid funding and expanding unemployment and emergency food assistance, the Democratic proposal creates an entirely new, federally funded paid sick-leave program. It makes emergency benefits available to anyone who must stay home from work for various coronavirus-related reasons.
Furman argued that this proposal highlights our lack of preparedness (making us an outlier relative to many other countries) for what’s happening right now — both in terms of making it easier for people to avoid interacting and in terms of coronavirus’ financial toll.
“If we’d had paid leave going into this, we’d be less concerned about the spread of the virus and less concerned about its impact on families,” Furman told me.
In his speech, Trump again talked about the need for a payroll tax cut. But this would do far less to get quick, targeted financial help to those who need it than all of these proposals in the Democratic blueprint.
Our biggest problem is that coronavirus is already here, and spreading.
By dwelling on blaming China and Europeans, Trump did more than just demagogue. He also risked distracting us from the more urgent problem, which is combating the spread of coronavirus that’s already happening in the United States.
“The number one most important thing is reducing the spread of the virus here,” Furman told me. “We heard nothing about that from President Trump. Blaming foreigners distracts us from the real problem.”
What would address the real problem is increased testing, more assistance to states to combat the virus, benefits encouraging people to stay home from work if necessary, and financial help targeted to those who need it most.
It’s probably too much to expect that Trump will ever refrain from his typically absurd and counterproductive demagoguery, no matter how bad this public emergency gets. But if it must continue, perhaps Trump can be induced to accept this Democratic proposal while it does.