While President Trump is trying his best to convince the American public that this will all be over by Easter, nothing could be further from the truth. What America needs now is an immediate shutdown to save lives, and for Congress to shelter in place on the Hill to address the day-to-day developments as this unprecedented crisis roils markets and communities.
A few weeks ago, candidates across New York State were in the midst of gathering signatures to appear on the ballot in the upcoming June primaries, while Coronavirus was beginning its spread across the city. Our campaign saw the risk of requiring volunteers and staff to be in constant contact with the public and called on Governor Cuomo to end or alter the petitioning process. Thanks to mounting pressure from elected officials, other candidates, healthcare workers, and community groups, the Governor heeded our call. It was a commonsense solution to an obvious problem.
While the risk of exposure was undoubtedly reduced for an untold number of individuals, the virus continued its exponential spread. Here in New York the number of cases is doubling every 3 days, and updated projections are predicting the state will be hit harder than anticipated. Yesterday, the White House recommended anyone who visited or passed through New York City to self-quarantine for 14 days. Colorado is aso beginning to see a disturbing surge in cases. It doesn’t take an expert to recognize that the current social distancing and state by state shelter in place orders are not enough. Four days ago, an MIT complexity scientist who studies pandemics called for a 5 week national lockdown. They’re right.
India recognizes the severity of what we are facing and has made the difficult decision to lockdown the country for the next three weeks — a country of 1.3 billion people. Yet, here in America our leadership continues to scramble to respond, putting economic fears ahead of the necessary actions needed to meet this global pandemic head on.
In the early morning hours, negotiators on Capitol Hill finally came to agreement on a $2 trillion stimulus package that will see a vote today. Following the vote, a recess is being floated with Senators set to leave Washington and return to their districts. But the reality is we don’t know what the future holds, and if the stimulus package will be enough. Undoubtedly, like any legislation, it will be imperfect and require modifications.
In normal times, waiting weeks to reconvene would suffice. But America and the markets need reassurance that there’s a steady hand of leadership on the wheel. Let’s face it, Trump is certainly not that hand. Congress should be called back, with non-essential staff allowed to work remotely, and shelter in place on the Hill to work around the clock to legislate around issues related to meeting the challenges the spreading virus is creating. While talk of teleconferencing and voting remotely has been floated, the crisis at hand is too fast moving for the slow walk of Washington and the Constitutional questions such actions would inevitably raise.
While this may seem like a drastic measure to take, it would go a long way in ensuring that Congress is able to respond quickly, and that appropriate oversight is possible at a time when Executive overreach can –left unchecked– place our already fragile democratic institutions in further jeopardy. Members of the House and Senate would better serve their constituents in Washington where emergency legislation can be negotiated and passed at the speed of the mounting challenges.
Requiring all members of Congress to be in one place, especially when some have already tested positive for the virus, rightfully raises concerns. However, it’s no different than the doctors and nurses who find themselves at risk of exposure in order to do their jobs. Appropriate measures can be taken to adapt facilities on and around the Hill to minimize the risk of exposure to members, and deal with any new cases that may arise.
The bottom line is that we are not meeting the severity of this crisis with the urgency it requires. The severity of the economic hit, and more importantly, the human toll we face if we do not shut down the country and pass legislation that will provide economic support to individuals and workers will pale in comparison to what awaits.