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Congress should move immediately to devise a comprehensive recovery act

Congress should move immediately to devise a comprehensive recovery act
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Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. The coronavirus pandemic is causing such devastation that the nation cannot wait several more months – until after the election and the expected transition of power – to act decisively to curb the assault. The House of Representatives should immediately start hearings on a series of bills that would provide for a comprehensive national policy to address the pandemic and its economic effects. They should use the COVID-19 plans presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe BidenJoe BidenHarris to travel to Texas Friday after polls show tie between Trump, Biden Florida heat sends a dozen Trump rally attendees to hospital Harris more often the target of online misinformation than Pence: report MORE laid out as a starting point.

Sadly, we are getting inured to the daily headlines of rising fatalities. We should remember that, but a few months ago, only pessimists warned that 100,000, maybe as many as 200,000, Americans would lose their lives to COVID-19. Now it is becoming clear that we may exceed that number well before the year is out — and that the carnage will not stop, despite all the happy talk about a rushed vaccine.

The pandemic calls for a national policy to provide states and cities with a framework and resources for their actions. The virus does not recognize state borders, and the notion that each state should develop its own testing scheme is ludicrous. Medical resources, shamefully, are still in short supply.

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Recent reporting in The Hill illustrates how far we are from where we should be. According to the report, Phoenix Mayor Kate GallegoKate GallegoOnce a COVID-19 epicenter, Arizona emerges from lockdown Congress should move immediately to devise a comprehensive recovery act Phoenix mayor urges governor to issue statewide mask order, close some businesses MORE revealed that FEMA denied her request for a large, drive-through testing site, asserting that the agency is no longer opening such sites. Meanwhile, Phoenix residents seeking testing have encountered lines with wait times of up to eight hours. Those who are able to stay languish in their cars in over 100-degree heat. Dr. Michael Mina, a Harvard professor, laments the lack of national coordination: “We are too fragmented,” he told the New York Times. “We don’t have a good way to load-balance the system.” Even the business community is calling for a more unified national policy. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable and the National Association of Manufacturers wrote to President Trump seeking national guidelines regarding mask-wearing, both for their employees and for customers.

Congress should modify the Defense Production Act to give itself the authority to order specific corporations to produce what the nation needs, as Trump is refusing to do what must be done. Congress could then impose a variety of penalties on corporations that ignore such instructions. Next, Congress should increase FEMA’s budget; order it to distribute the medical supplies it marshals to the states according to their needs, rather than allowing private corporations to sell them to the highest bidder; and require FEMA to reallocate resources from states that are doing better to those that are facing more challenges. Congress should hold the FEMA administrator in contempt if he acts otherwise.

Policies need to be both national and comprehensive. Congress so far has been taking a piecemeal approach. It passed several valuable bills and – to its credit – was able to enact, in record time, a record amount of economic assistance through the CARES Act. However, to reiterate, these are not normal times. An even more sweeping approach is called for. Biden’s plan is a good place to start.

Biden proposes the establishment of a national Pandemic Testing Board to ramp up free and reliable testing across the country, as well as the employment of no fewer than 100,000 people to serve as national contact tracers. He calls for “a coordinated, country-wide, future-facing national effort to acquire, produce, and distribute PPE, test kits and machines, lab supplies, and other critical supplies.” Additionally, Biden proposes the creation of a national registry of volunteer health care workers willing to offer their assistance to areas in need.

Biden’s plan also covers the economy. This part of his agenda compiles all kinds of sound ideas, but, even together, the items do not amount to an economic recovery strategy. A comprehensive recovery act must include jobs for all who cannot find them in the private sector; a massive new public investment, preferably in the form of an infrastructure program; and assurance that the next Federal Reserve chairman will commit to keeping interest rates at zero.

Finally, Congress should add policies to advance social justice. For example, it should fund programs that aim to decrease the differences in life expectancy that exist between socioeconomic groups, with an initial goal of achieving a 50 percent reduction by, say, 2025, followed by the complete elimination of such disparities. Congress should allocate $1 billion for a public education campaign aimed at those who believe the virus is a hoax. Exceptional times call for exceptional measures.

Amitai Etzioni is a university professor and professor of international affairs at The George Washington University. His latest book, “Reclaiming Patriotism,” was published by University of Virginia Press in 2019 and is available for download without charge.