While Senator Mazie Hirono, her colleagues in the U.S. Senate, and Congress are moving quickly and responsibly to respond to the needs of Americans during the coronavirus crisis, it’s hard not to draw attention to the fact that lawmakers have not done enough to prepare ahead of time for the national crisis we find ourselves in. It’s like giving a hand to someone half-buried in quicksand.
There were a plethora of warning signs for the nation to avoid stepping in quicksand in the first place, before COVID-19.
All the coronavirus assistance bills being passed have been bipartisan driven, but when you look closely at the sectors most vulnerable due to COVID-19 – small businesses, the sick with chronic illnesses, those without health insurance, renters, poor communities – it is more than justified to do bold finger-pointing.
The Republican party is playing the bipartisan game now – at this critical stage of damage control. But legislation after legislation proposed by Democrats to make the lives of these vulnerable groups mentioned above (which could have actually better prepare them for this sudden emergency) have been repeatedly stalled, blocked or shut down by Republicans.
Republicans fostered an environment that placed giant corporations at an advantage over small businesses. They’ve rallied against anti-trust laws. They’ve supported disproportionate awarding of government contracts to big corporations, even as mid-sized business in many cases could have provided the required services government needed. Republicans have given plenty of lip service to helping small businesses but has done little to correct the unfair competitive advantage big corporations have had over small businesses.
It’s fair to say many Democrat lawmakers have been part of the problem as well, but Republicans have almost unanimously favored big corporations as small mom and pop shops disappeared and practically become nostalgia.
The same pattern exists for the chronically ill and uninsured. Employer-based health insurance, which is now a glaring problem, has been addressed time after time by Democrats. Medicare for All, which if it had been in place before the coronavirus virus, would have prevented millions who’ve lost their jobs from also losing their health insurance. The biggest obstacle for reforming the nation’s broken health care system has been Republican resistance (and a few Democrats bank rolled by Big Pharma).
Look at renters and poor communities, again the same pattern exists where Democrats have tried to make a difference, but hit a wall of partisan politics.
Some might say right now is not the time to be playing a blame game. This may be true for politicians. But now is actually the best and most appropriate time for voters and the general public to see how we got to this abysmal state and why. A logical person is fair to ask: “How could everything fall apart so quickly in a few weeks if things were as they were sold to us, just fine, even doing “great?” The reality is fundamentals have not been “great” for a long time.
The pandemic itself was made worse when President Donald Trump eliminated the White House National Security Council Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which if it had existed, could have better prepare the nation, definitely in the early stages, than what had transpired.
Earlier in the year before the coronavirus outbreak, the President even proposed making cuts to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Office of Public Health Preparedness and Response Program. He also asked to cut funds to the Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Disease program.
And just last week, the President cut ties with the World Health Organization (WHO) at a time when the nation could benefit from WHO and its vast network.
Imagine also how out of touch and disconnected Sen. Mitch McConnell was when he initially said he favors letting states declare bankruptcy rather than giving federal bailouts to assist states struggling with employee pension costs.
This pandemic has brought attention to areas that our lawmakers should have been working on for years. COVID-19 exposed our vulnerabilities and areas where lawmakers neglected.
Now everyone’s playing catch-up.
Change in attitude and funding needed
Why all this finger-pointing matters is because the nation cannot be making the same mistakes in the future. This anti-government, “government keep your hands-off everything attitude,” largely promoted by Republicans and Libertarians cannot continue.
The nation is in this mess because of this irresponsible attitude.
And in the end, here we are, throwing trillions of dollars to save businesses and communities when it’s probable that support for them prior to the pandemic could have cost government less money.
We must be better prepared for the next pandemic, reverse the damages of climate change (a crisis bound to get worse), and support a stronger public health system.
For the time being, clearly all efforts should be to dedicate resources to our businesses, the unemployed, hospitals, and communities.
But there needs to be a strong message sent that priorities in government funding must change when a vaccine is made available and the nation is in better shape.
Big corporations also cannot have it both ways, either – cry foul when government places regulations on them and favor what amounts to unbridled capitalism; then ask government for bailout loans, and in some cases, grants when each recession occurs. If individuals must be better prepared for a rainy day (the stimulus check is an insult), so too should big corporations. Stop stock buybacks and overpaying executives; and instead save more for future emergencies.
Kudos to Sen. Hirono for being on the right side by fighting for legislations to benefit small business, the sick with chronic illnesses, those without health insurance, renters, poor communities even before the pandemic. She has been a true fighter for our state. And a beaming source of light for humanity.