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It’s time! Congress needs to ‘get its act together’ on COVID

News Source: WND

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[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]

By Tim Phillips
Real Clear Policy

As part of my job, I’ve been traveling the country — responsibly — for months, talking with Americans. And the thing I’m hearing most is: How do we get things back to normal?

Six months into this unprecedented crisis, communities across our nation continue to weather extremely high unemployment claims and an economy that’s in recession. The pain of businesses and those who can’t find work is real and lasting. Though states have begun to reopen, businesses are getting back on their feet, and people are getting their jobs back, it’s not happening as quickly as they’d like. Elected officials at every level must recognize the importance of working with businesses and experts to responsibly and safely reopen our economy. Truck drivers, grocery store workers, and the people who have helped keep essential services open throughout this crisis are heroes. The ingenuity and resilience of Americans has brought us through tough challenges before, and we should embrace our ability to adapt and innovate to overcome this one.

It’s time for Congress to do its part, too.

People are looking for leadership from Washington. Instead, with a few notable exceptions, they are getting finger pointing, partisan gamesmanship, and a legislative debate dominated by arguments over the price tag of competing bills, as if money alone can solve the problem, instead of actual solutions.

Congress has made no progress on stalled COVID relief legislation. In any case, lawmakers have shown little indication they’re ready to answer that question I keep hearing: How do we get back to normal?

Congress should start by recognizing that their proposals have largely missed the mark, because they have focused on the wrong things, and too many of them. Big bills are bad bills and should be rejected. Beyond boasting historically high price tags that will dig us deeper into debt, bills this size seem more focused on giving billions to defense contractors, as was the case with the HEALS Act, or providing a $1 trillion bailouts for state and local governments that don’t need it, as was the case with the HEROES Act, than on actual solutions.

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Even the Senate’s “skinny” relief bill, which was more “targeted” than any of its predecessors, continues to focus on the wrong things.

Now that the Senate measure has failed to move forward, Congress should shift its focus to solutions that actually help us emerge from — not merely endure — this crisis.

That means getting people back to work and finding ways to help our economy reopen more quickly and safely.

Congress can start by clearing the way for individuals, communities, and businesses to adapt, innovate, and meet the needs of the new environment they will be returning to.

This means giving schools, religious institutions, and businesses the certainty they need to reopen responsibly and offer services to the public again by guaranteeing liability protections.

This also means giving individuals the flexibility to pursue opportunities as they arise, whether by reducing restrictions on home-based businesses or reforming financial regulations so that families and small businesses can more easily access capital to make their entrepreneurial dreams a reality.

Of course, this also means ensuring responsible public health decisions regarding reopening can be made at the local level and applied fairly, with input from health experts, businesses, community leaders, and lawmakers.

Congress should also ensure the $600-a-week unemployment insurance bonus that expired in July stays expired.

If supplemental unemployment insurance is to be extended, it is Congress’ responsibility to do so through legislative action, not presidential executive order. Lawmakers should consider covering percentages of pre-COVID-19 wages instead of choosing a set dollar amount that applies across the board. At most, Congress should cap unemployment compensation at 100 percent of what individuals earned while working.

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There is no question that finding work is not as easy as it was before. But paying some people more unemployment than they made working full-time — as was the case with the $600-a-week bonus and is still the case, though to a lesser extent, with the $300-a-week bonus included in the “skinny” proposal  — makes it harder for businesses and employees to make their way back to contributing the services and products we need.

Congress should also more aggressively fight the spread of the virus. Controlling the virus is crucial to any effort to move forward. Americans want things to go back to normal, but we can’t truly return to normal — much less recover stronger — unless people are confident that the spread is under control and our hospital systems are prepared to effectively treat people with the virus.

They can start by recognizing what already has been working and do more of it.

We should continue to eliminate administrative barriers to testing, treatment, and personal protective equipment. Temporary suspensions of restrictions on telemedicine and medical professionals working across state lines should be made permanent. States should repeal onerous certificate-of-need laws that limit access and drive up the costs of health care.

Congress should also scrutinize its own policies that impact our ability to scale up or approve new testing methods more quickly.

A targeted bill to help ramp up testing in advance of flu season may be in order. But of the $38 billion that Congress has already earmarked for testing and research, why has only $18 billion been disbursed? Let’s first focus on how to effectively use the money from the last big bill.

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Similarly, only in July — four months into the crisis — did the FDA finally approve pooled testing, which will help us test more people, more often, at a lower cost. And only in August did the Department of Health and Human Services announce that it was permanently removing a key bureaucratic hurdle to the rapid deployment of laboratory-developed diagnostic tests.

Congress can do all this through targeted legislation that can be evaluated on whether it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish and is less prone to being packed with special interest projects.

Congress is right to work with urgency, but it must listen to the concerns of its constituents. They want their lives back. Rather than throwing money at the problem indiscriminately, lawmakers should double-down on the steps that have already proven successful, get people back to work, and lay the groundwork for us to emerge from this pandemic stronger and with more confidence than before.

Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity.

[Editor’s note: This story originally was published by Real Clear Policy.]

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