Democrats roll out national plan to reopen America

House Democrats on Friday called for the federal government to take a more aggressive role in determining how to reopen American society, schools and businesses, the same day Georgia pressed ahead with plans to reopen some nonessential businesses.

The Democrats warned that an individual state rushing to reopen before it has met key public-health benchmarks could result in more outbreaks of the deadly coronavirus in neighboring states. 

“If one state reopened too soon, there is no way to stop the state next to it from getting an increase in infection,” Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), a former Health and Human Services secretary during the Clinton administration, said on a conference call Friday. “And that’s why we need a national strategy with real scientific, health care, public-health standards because unless we’re going to build walls between the states, this disease is simply going to go across borders. 

“So the idea that Georgia would open up parts, that doesn’t protect Florida,” she added.

Shalala has teamed with Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) and other Democrats on legislation that carves out a more defined role for the federal government in how exactly to reopen the nation, weeks after governors across the country closed schools and businesses and issued stay-at-home orders. 

The Reopen America Act would create a federal coronavirus reopening panel that would work with states on their reopening strategy. But the legislation encourages neighboring states — like South Carolina, Georgia and Florida, or New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — to work together on a regional reopening plan. 

Once reopening plans by states or regions are approved by the federal panel, states would receive billions of dollars in funding to implement those strategies, though the bill doesn’t yet have a price tag.

The bill also calls for a separate federal health-focused panel that would coordinate and standardize coronavirus testing, protective medical equipment and ventilators for states.

“So we’ve spent hundreds of billions of dollars on small business and again we reinfused that fund. We’ve spent hundreds of billions on unemployment insurance,” Raskin, the bill’s author and a member of the Democratic leadership team, said on the call with reporters. “But we are very focused on the fact that we’ve not spent nearly enough energy, time, resources or thinking on how we’re actually going to reopen commerce, education and social life.”

Among the 50 Democratic co-sponsors are Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee; and Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s health subcommittee.

The Reopen America Act represents the Democratic response to President Trump’s own reopening strategy, one that often has been undermined by Trump’s own words and tweets. Last month, he said he wanted the country reopened by Easter, but that day came and went as the number of coronavirus deaths and cases spiked. 

A week ago, Trump tweeted support for those protesting governors who’ve shut down their states. “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” he tweeted. But on Thursday, Trump criticized Republican Gov. Brian Kemp for allowing the reopening of certain businesses, including hair salons, gyms, bowling alleys and tattoo parlors.

The Trump administration’s guidelines call for states and local governments to begin easing closures only after they see a two-week downward trajectory in coronavirus symptoms and cases. 

Democrats argued that Trump’s three-part Open Up America Again strategy doesn’t provide sufficient federal guidance or help for states and localities, leading to mass confusion and inconsistent policies across the country. 

“This week, the governor of Georgia thought that he was reading the signals that the president and announced he was going to begin reopening on Wednesday. The president then turned on him and said no, he was opposed to that. But then yesterday, the president said he was very excited about all of the reopening activity that’s taking place in Utah and Tennessee,” Raskin said. “And, of course, what we get predictably is chaos.”

“If we go with this Helter Skelter, chaotic approach that the administration is overseeing,” Raskin added, “we’re going to be thrust immediately into further outbreak and shutdown.”

On the call, Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) praised governors of both parties, including Vermont’s GOP governor, Phil Scott, for enacting health care and social distancing policies that are protecting Americans. He contrasted that approach with Trump, who on Thursday suggested studying whether light and heat — even injecting disinfectants — could treat coronavirus. 

“At the federal level, it’s totally scattered, and we see that with what the president is doing, where he’s for opening the beaches or against opening the beaches. He’s now advocating that we take a look at using Lysol disinfectant to see whether that works. That is not what’s called a coordinated organized approach,” Welch told reporters. 

“It’s a person who is essentially speculating, and he becomes a speculator in chief as opposed to the organizer in chief and the funder in chief,” he added.

Tags Anna Eshoo Coronavirus David Cicilline Donald Trump Donna Shalala Hakeem Jeffries Jamie Raskin Peter Welch

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