Governing in the time of Covid-19 is hard.
“Nothing’s been good enough,” President Joe Biden told ABC’s David Muir. He was talking about a lack of available Covid-19 tests, but he might have been talking about anything as the virus has rampaged through the country, in wave after wave, and successive US governments have fallen short.
“I don’t think it’s a failure,” Biden said of the lack of tests, which is complicating Americans’ plans for safe holiday travel and gathering. Rather, it was a lack of foresight.
“The answer is yeah, I wish I had thought about ordering half a million (tests) two months ago, before Covid hit here.”
Now the government will flood the US with tests, but not until January, after the holidays.
Americans can expect that their governments, run by Republicans or Democrats, will be caught off guard by a pandemic.
But as Covid-19 surges on, Washington has returned to its partisan sniping and general paralysis.
Public health officials are warning of a tsunami of infections of the Omicron variant of Covid-19. Infections could explode to unbelievable numbers. And even if the variant is less severe — experts say to keep an eye on hospitalizations to gauge that — a crush of infections that may be creeping around vaccines could still tax the health care system.
Some economists are downgrading their outlook for the US economy as a result.
But the bipartisanship that allowed early extraordinary actions to save the economy in 2020 is gone. The political capital that allowed Democrats to pass more relief measures in March 2021 appears to be spent.
The measures enacted by Congress and the Federal Reserve to react to the pandemic are over or ending.
That Americans may want or need more from their government was evident in new data about sign-ups for health insurance facilitated by the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, which were at record levels after Democrats in Congress earlier acted to lower premiums and some employers dropped coverage.
Biden will extend what he can — including an announcement Wednesday he will push through May 1 a moratorium on student loan payments. A requirement for masks to be worn on public transportation is likely to be extended through March.
More masking in confined public places is in line with Covid-19 best practices. Further delaying payments will help Americans with loans, although it does not erase the debts.
More consequential efforts are expiring. The child tax credit helped nearly all parents, including with direct payments to those struggling the most. That tax credit is running out and has little chance of being extended as long as Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin opposes it.
Hailed as a test case of Democrats’ goal of ending child poverty, it wasn’t specifically pandemic-related, but it passed as part of the pandemic rescue package in March.
The irony of Joe Manchin. The moderate West Virginian fears that additional government spending could supercharge inflation and hurt the economy, ruining the country’s chances of emerging from the pandemic.
Ironically, it is the failure of the spending bill and the newly resurgent Covid-19 surge that have economists ready to downgrade their forecasts for the US economy.
“With Omicron looming and DC in disarray, risks to the economic recovery next year are not inconsequential and are rising,” Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told WEBICNEWS’s Matt Egan.
That downgrade would come despite lowering gas prices and apparent easing of supply chain kinks that had slowed the recovery.
2022 vs. 2020. When Biden sought on Tuesday to reassure Americans about the expected surge of Covid-19 cases caused by the Omicron variant, he listed three ways the country is more prepared today than it was when the pandemic hit:
More than 200 million people are fully vaccinated and largely protected against severe illness and death, although many need to still get booster shots.
Supplies have been stockpiled for health care workers to use during a surge.
We know a lot more about the disease and how to treat it.
US Food and Drug Administration approval Wednesday of a new oral treatment by Pfizer is another step in the right direction. The Biden administration has committed $5.3 billion for 10 million courses of the pill, which Pfizer says cuts the risk of hospitalization or death by 89% if given to high-risk adults within a few days of their first symptoms. The administration said 250,000 courses of the treatment would be available in January.
That’s the good news. The bad news is Biden left out that a wave of bipartisanship that had enabled the government to act early in the pandemic is completely gone.
Back to bipartisanship? Ha. Perhaps Biden was trying to recapture it when he offered some rare kind words for his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who saw the vaccine effort launched on his watch.
Equally rare were the kind words Trump gave to Biden in return. Unclear is whether Trump has veered from his most rabid supporters. He was booed at an event after he told his supporters he had received a booster shot.
Kindness across parties is a blip, however. Republicans have united to oppose anything Biden proposes, with the exception of a massive infrastructure bill to fund badly needed fixes to roads and bridges, among other things. Even that measure, which Trump whipped against, received scant GOP votes in the House, where leadership encouraged their members to oppose it.
The two men could square off again in 2024. Trump is expected to run again and Biden told Muir he’ll seek reelection “if I’m in good health” and that a Trump run would “only increase” the prospects.
Democrats’ regrets. Liberal Democrats may now regret voting for that bipartisan infrastructure measure, since they had predicted it would erase their leverage to push through more sweeping social changes in the Build Back Better plan. They were right. Rather than brag about the massive rescue bill they had pushed through in March and the infrastructure spending they got passed into law, Democrats are tending toward depression at what they appear to have lost.
Universal pre-K, a transformational child tax credit to guarantee money for parents to keep kids out of poverty and initiatives to fight climate change seemed within their grasp until they lost the pivotal vote of Manchin.
Build Back Better isn’t the only piece of Biden’s agenda that’s in limbo.
Biden’s main tool to push the reluctant minority of Americans into vaccination — a requirement for large employers to require their workers to get the shot — faces uncertainty in the courts. It is on, for now. The Supreme Court will hold a special session of oral arguments on January 7 to consider the requirement.
Three months of Omicron? While the President and US health officials like his top Covid-19 adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci have told vaccinated and boosted Americans to be careful with masking but to carry on with their lives, others are counseling more caution.
In a series of tweets late Tuesday, Bill Gates, the billionaire turned worldwide public health advocate, said he is canceling holiday plans and fears the country “could be entering the worst part of the pandemic.”
It’s a wave, he said, that could last three months.
“Those few months could be bad, but I still believe if we take the right steps, the pandemic can be over in 2022,” Gates said.
Hopefully the right steps don’t involve much action from Congress.