Comment: Democrats must break stalemate over covid funding

If another surge hits and support isn’t available for vaccines and treatments, Democrats will get the blame.

By Jonathan Bernstein / Bloomberg Opinion

Democrats should be pushing hard this week — not next week! — to break the logjam preventing full funding for pandemic prevention and treatment. There’s no excuse not to get it done.

Some policy decisions are difficult. Economists disagreed on the best size of last spring’s relief bill. I don’t think anyone has a good idea of what President Biden could have done to prevent the Russian invasion of Ukraine. In some cases, it’s hard to know what electoral effects a policy might have; there are often tradeoffs that are difficult to calculate. Sometimes, elected officials have to balance what they think are popular ideas with their impact on the nation. And then there are times when elected officials are stuck between intense demands of party actors who are lined up against public opinion among the bulk of voters.

Pandemic funding presents none of these problems. The need for vaccines, testing, treatment and more, all detailed by the White House some time ago, is obvious. This kind of spending is surely popular among most voters and among Democratic party actors. There’s no long-term drawback; to the contrary, some of the spending the White House is requesting can be even more important in the long run than it is right now. And it is critical to Democratic hopes in 2022 and 2024. It’s impossible to prove that Biden’s approval slump was caused by the delta and omicron waves of covid-19, and from the indirect effects of those setbacks on supply chains, job markets and inflation, but it’s almost certainly a major contributing factor.

Every possible consideration should be pushing Democrats to get this done. Right away. Indeed, there’s a good argument that they should be doing quite a bit more, especially for long-run challenges, but for now? The pandemic isn’t gone, and therefore the government response can’t be over. And every Democrat in Congress (and quite a few Republicans!) know it.

The stalemate in Congress that forced appropriators to drop coronavirus funding from the spending bill that passed earlier this month, has to do with how (and whether) to pay for the $15.6 billion that Congress was about to include. The answer is simple: Get it done.

Yes, Democrats may be angry that many Republicans in the House of Representatives won’t vote for spending bills even when those same Republicans think that much of that spending is essential. Yes, that’s irresponsible. They may also be upset that Senate Republicans filibuster everything, including urgently needed money to fight a pandemic. And surely a lot of Democrats are frustrated that many of their legislative priorities have stalled and that Republicans have opposed many of those priorities and are unwilling to compromise, even though they do appear willing to strike a deal on coronavirus funding.

Tough luck. Democrats are free to use those votes against Republicans (as they’ve done by attacking Republicans for voting against funding for Ukraine when they opposed the $1.5 trillion spending bill).

But how Republicans vote is beyond their control. Taking an available deal to get this money in place is within their control. Senate Republicans are reportedly using the filibuster to gain bargaining leverage, not to block funding. For better or worse, that’s fair play under the rules and norms of Congress.

Besides, Democrats with longer memories will recall that the filibuster and Republican irresponsibility gave Democrats considerable leverage during Donald Trump’s presidency, including during 2017-18 when Republicans had unified control.

The House returns this week. There’s been little reporting on any progress toward cutting a deal. Perhaps everyone was waiting until now. Perhaps progress is happening away from the television cameras. Either way, time is running out.

Democrats need to know that if a new wave of virus shows up and the government doesn’t have enough tests, enough vaccines and and enough treatments because of a Capitol Hill budget squabble, voters are going to blame the majority party and the president from that party. It should be the absolute No. 1 legislative priority for every Democrat until it gets done.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Opinion

toon
Editorial cartoons for Wednesday, July 24

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Elect Gallardo-Van Ornam to 10th LD House seat

The Republican and Arlington city council member has a diverse background from which she can draw.

Vote 2024. US American presidential election 2024. Vote inscription, badge, sticker. Presidential election banner Vote 2024, poster, sign. Political election campaign symbol. Vector Illustration
Editorial: Ron Muzzall’s work warrants reelection to Senate

Janet St. Clair offers key experience, but Muzzall is effective and sets an example for civil leadership.

South County Fire, Prop. 1: Renew charge for safety, resilience

South County Union Firefighters strongly urge the community to support the renewal… Continue reading

Everett, Prop. 1: City should manage costs better

It’s disappointing the Herald editorial board deemed the proposed 44 percent increase… Continue reading

Comment: Every vice presidential candidate is a DEI pick

Biden was. Pence was. Harris was. J.D. Vance was. It’s all about balancing diverse interests.

Krugman: Trump’s cynical attempt to scare Black Americans

He wants them to believe immigrants are taking their jobs. That’s not at all what the numbers show.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, July 23

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

Help in efforts to save birds, wildlife

Since the 1970s, North America has lost 30 percent of its birds,… Continue reading

Say yes to saving lives by voting for Mukilteo EMS levy

The Mukilteo Fire Department is asking voters to renew the levy for… Continue reading

Kristof: What Biden’s decision not to run means for America

Biden’s selfless choice aids his party, secures his legacy and improves the world’s chances for normalcy.

G9ldberg: And just like that, Democrats find reason for joy

Following Biden’s decision to end his campaign and endorse his veep, Democrats are positively giddy.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.