The Dog Days of COVID

May 13, 2020

There were plenty of big guns at Tuesday's Senate coronavirus hearing, but it might be four-legged Rufus who stole the show. Senator Lamar Alexander's (R-Tenn.) napping spaniel was just one of the signs that business was anything but usual for the Hill. Like the Supreme Court flush heard 'round the world, Americans are getting a good look at their leaders as everyday people -- with rock band posters, barking dogs, messy desks, and books stacked to the ceiling. But more importantly, they got an honest picture of something else: where the country really is in its COVID-19 fight.

It was a surreal contrast to the wood-paneled committee room where Senator Alexander normally presides. And yet, even from his living room, the HELP chairman managed to get to the bottom of some of the wrenches being thrown into reopening. The senators volleyed questions at Dr. Anthony Fauci of the Coronavirus Task Force, exposing some fault lines between Republicans and leading health experts. The doctor took plenty of fire from conservatives who worry that his alarmism is getting in the way of jumpstarting the economy. Fauci responded, humbly, that he "never made [himself] out to be the 'end all'" or the "only voice in this."

He's right. The mainstream media did that as part of its unrelenting mission to keep fear alive. But in the process of trying to keep people safe, Senator Tim Scott (R-S.C.) pointed out, we've completely neglected the health of something else: the economy. "When we set out to flatten the curve [with closures and lockdowns], we didn't set out to with the goal of preventing 100 percent of fatalities. That would be unrealistic. It is impossible." We set out, he went on, to keep hospitals below capacity and save lives. "And I think we've done a pretty good job of that," he said. But it's time to stop moving the goalposts. "... I respect the need for caution, [but] we are too often presented with a false dichotomy: saving the economy or saving lives."

Senator Scott is absolutely right. The media keeps telling us to listen to the medical experts -- and while we respect them, that's just one side of the coin. There are a lot of other considerations, Senator Mike Braun (R-Ind.) agreed, that have to be factored into the decision-making. "It would be so easy to continue that highly bureaucratic one-size-fits-all [approach]," he admitted on "Washington Watch." But it "would guarantee that we're going to take the economic patient and... near kill it in the process -- and that doesn't need to happen."

It's a "tricky virus," Braun insisted, but President Trump has hit it head-on. And the reason he's been so successful, the Indiana senator points out, is because he "knows how entrepreneurs work." He knows the way to get quicker results is relying on the private sector and power of the free market. "Imagine [if] you had a president that was just going to be hand-in-hand with the FDA and CDC. We'd still be talking about getting out of the gate!"

But, of course, Braun said, "the fact that he takes a different style and approach to things" means he gets more heat. Even though, he pointed out, that same approach is what has helped us overcome significant obstacles. "You don't hear anything about [personal protective equipment shortages anymore]. You don't hear anything about ventilators. You don't hear anything about being under supplied with critical care beds. Those were the first three. We took care of them pretty quickly." And yet, "in this highly charged, heated environment, you [hear] none of the benefits of [his decisions]. You only get the negatives. And course that's been the name of the game since he got elected back in '16."

Now, the attention's turned to testing -- which, as everyone in Tuesday's hearing agreed, is one of the biggest keys to moving forward. But even there, what the administration has accomplished is impressive. Despite a government that's resistant to change and slow to move, the numbers would suggest that it was President Trump's leadership that broke through and leveraged the private sector to accelerate this research and develop these innovative diagnostic tests. And with the $11 billion dollars flowing to the states to help that effort, he's creating a competitive environment to see who can do it best. "It's through the laboratory of diverse states," Senator Braun pointed out, that we'll find a way forward. And ultimately, that sort of free market concept has worked quite well for America. Then, looking at the testimony from yesterday's committee, it looks like the U.S. will be able to produce and distribute at least 40-50 million tests a month. That's incredibly significant.

Our real risk now isn't what's been done -- it's what we're going to do moving forward. If we aren't careful, Senator Braun warns, "bankruptcies will be the next tragedy that occur. We're seeing a few of them already if we don't get off this idea that we need a [$3 trillion dollar] Phase Four [bill]. To me, that was the biggest pile of baloney I've ever seen coming out of [Speaker Nancy] Pelosi in the House. We'll have this thing linger for a long time... like '08 and '09." Obviously, that's what Democrats are hoping for so they can make political hay. But, as Mike said, "If we're smart on our restart going forward, take a little mitigated risk, do it state by state, county by county, and get the Feds [and their money] out of the way," we'll give recovery a fighting chance. And right now, that's all most are asking for.