Republican rule in the US is a horror show. We get incoherent ramblings from our president on injecting bleach into our veins, calls for the states to file for bankruptcy from the Senate majority leader, a veto of modest IMF support for developing countries hammered financially by the virus, and a complete absence of guidance on the most crucial aspects of public health.
We already know this.
The greater tragedy is that the Democrats are barely better. Their program, to the extent it makes sense to speak of one, is protecting the immediate interests of their key constituents. This begins with the financial sector, and since the Republicans share the same commitment, their multi-trillion dollar bailout zipped right through. Small business is also important to both parties, if not quite as much, and upwards of a billion will wend its way to them—via the banks, of course. Lots of health sector money flows to the Democrats, and Pelosi and Schumer found a way to bail them out too. Beyond this it has been hit or miss. The unemployed will get greater wage replacement, even above 100% for the bottom end of the labor market. There may be future money for the states. A few billion for testing, and that’s about it.
What all this adds up to is top-heavy interest group protection. It’s not a plan.
The irony is that informed opinion has largely converged in the two key areas of public policy. To overcome the pandemic we need four things:
- A rapid increase in the production and dissemination of personal protective equipment, first to the health care sector and then to other workers who can’t avoid social contact. This should be mandated and organized by the government through established emergency powers.
- Mandatory use of face masks in public by everyone—no exceptions. Masks, even simple homemade cloth coverings, are highly effective in reducing transmission. (No, they don’t do much to shield the wearer from ambient exposures; yes they eliminate most transmission by the wearer.)
- The government should make an immense expansion of testing capability its top priority. No resources should be spared. In addition, all available R&D capability should be directed toward improving the specificity and sensitivity of testing methods.
- Measures should be taken immediately to establish a network of local and regional contact tracing systems. Doing this in a manner that minimizes broader loss of privacy risks should be a primary concern. Between vastly expanded testing and contact tracing, we have a pathway out of economic lockdown without inviting an even more devastating second wave of infections and deaths.
Economically, we need three broad initiatives:
- A payments moratorium, with no accrued interest. No rents, mortgages, premiums or other payments for essential services. This means stopping the clock for the duration of unavoidable economic restrictions.
- Universal income maintenance. Income streams disrupted by the response to the pandemic should be sustained at public expense, with some percent reduction to reflect reduced spending opportunities—especially if a payments moratorium is also in effect.\
- Liberal use of the Fed’s asset book to finance public services and sustain incomes. We should have unrestricted ability to borrow to achieve all of the above, and the Fed should be authorized to purchase all such loan instruments. Money should never be a constraint on policy, only real constraints like people, skills, resources and productive capacity.
My reading of the policy chatter is that, while emphases differ, in broad terms both agendas have overwhelming professional support. What they lack is a political vehicle.
In a better world, that vehicle would be the Democratic Party, which would establish a shadow government to refine these proposals and push for their adoption. It would assemble committees for particular policy areas, conduct regular—even daily—press briefings, organize petition campaigns, and in general act as though it had responsibility for progress in this country in economics and public health. In their absence, which is the world we actually live in, no one is assuming this responsibility, and policy is in chaos.
Note that this is separate from the debate over how progressive the Democrats should be—whether they should campaign for Medicare for All, free public higher education and other reforms. The need for leadership on matters of basic governance is prior and does not depend on resolving political disagreements over the future of the country once the pandemic has passed.
I hate these kind of columns.
“In a better world, that vehicle would be the Democratic Party….”
There is not one thing the Dem Party can do without a deal with the GOP. Zilch. Nada. Zero.
Ya’think that most of these things have not been thought about and discussed in the Dem Party? Broached with Gop ledership? Been told there is n chance, and any further discussion is a total waste of time?
Same thing stated with the ARRA and the ACA. You take your shot and make your best deal.
And if I hear the “bully pulpit schtick” I’ll just scream.
I agree with EMichael that there is less than zero chance of Republicans going along but could we ask Democratic messaging on social media to improve their game.
Should Mr Trump be incapacitated how does Mr Biden compare with say Mr Pence?
This post touches on an important feature (and arguably weakness) of our system of government, viz., that there is no leader of the opposition. This reflects our presidential form of government, our single member districts in house races, and the institutional weakness of our parties. It’s always frustrating when Republicans control the presidency that Congressional Democrats seem to have trouble mounting an effective public critique of Republican governance, but I’m not sure this is the fault of individual Democrats rather than the way the system operates.
I guess I didn’t get my point across. I am not calling for the Dems to govern above or outside the Republicans. I am calling for an attempt to assemble and promote a coherent policy on the coronavirus rather than reactive spasms to protect various interest groups, worthy as those groups (sometimes) might be.
Actually, the Republicans in their lizardly way did exactly this during their time in exile. They relentlessly pushed what might be called a plan (tax cuts, culture war, “defunding the left”), and it had a galvanizing effect on their supporters. In the current context, the value of a coherent counterplan is not just political (although it is that), but — even more — a contribution to aligning what are now diffuse and ineffective local responses. In short, setting a national agenda.
You opine the Dems fail to have a cohesive approach to Trump and Repubs similar to Boehner’s (the man with the perpetual sun tan like Trump) consistent attack, as a faux leader, on Obama in opposition to everything which was presented or proposed by him? Even to the point of meeting before Obama took office and suggesting such a strategy to oppose and with McConnell’s vow to make him a one-term president. To this, I would say yes. Dems are the weak sister of the two party system whether in the majority or the minority.
There is no fire in their belly and are disappointing in many respects. There should be a constant barrage countering the lies of Trump and Republicans. Indeed, we find them fighting amongst themselves to score points weakening the whole.
On the $2.5 trillion package the Dems brought forth a lot of different things, some of which they got.
Right now they are doing the same thing for the next go a round and have stopped the GOP plan.
that’s what they can do.
“I am not a member of any organized political party. I am a Democrat.”
This is so self defeating. It is the reason why Dems have lost so may elections over the last 40 years, and why it would continue.
Most progressives are dreamers.
They believe in the Green Lantern.
And when the light doesn’t work they blame the Democrats.
Good is not the enemy of perfect.
And when they look upon the days of Roosevelt, or even LBJ, they forget to consider the makeup of Congress.
And Congress has changed light years from LBJ.
McConnell would not be a Senator in the 60’s.
Wake up, smell the roses, and play the game you are actually playing.
And stop pissing on your allies.
Every Trump follow up question should be whether the last answer was sarcastic.
There is one advantage to having Reps in charge now – they won’t stonewall much. If Hillary was president, they would be demanding spending cuts elsewhere to pay for everything and block anything to try to benefit in the next election.
We absolutely need a shadow government!
The point is not what the Democrats are able to get now, the point is the need to be actively planning for the future to be ready to hit the ground running, and to provide a plan to rally around in order to build up momentum to flip the Senate and elect Biden.
In the shorter term, a shadow government could provide support to the governors developing regional consortia to have some kind of rational, coordinated direction for addressing the compelling issues of the moment: the pandemic, a smart recovery that lessens rather than exacerbates economic inequality, and climate change.
I cannot imagine any regional consortia that has any chance to do any of what you propose to any large degree.
It’s why the Articles of Confederation died.