Congress doing poor job addressing pandemic

Greed and selfishness take priority over public good

YOU NEVER WANT a serious crisis to go to waste.” That statement, made by incoming White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel at the height of the 2008 financial crisis, describes how politicians use the chaos and urgency surrounding emergencies to quietly advance their personal political interests, pet projects, and ideological agendas within “must-pass” bills.

It’s never a good time to put selfish politics ahead of the public interest, but a global health and economic crisis is the worst time. Yet, we are now witnessing the crudeness and cynicism with which Emanuel’s maxim is practiced.

The week-long circus that culminated with the passage of the coronavirus relief package is the latest example. Despite broad agreement on the fundamentals of this critical legislation and the need to act with unprecedented speed, the bill languished for days in Congress. During that desperate period, 52,736 more Americans became infected and 892 died.

And what was that time spent on? Loading the bill up with billions in spending that is totally unrelated to the current crisis, including $25 million for the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. That’s funding that should come to states like Massachusetts to distribute to overwhelmed hospitals, caregivers, shuttered small businesses, and sidelined workers.

Never mind all the frivolous spending over the past decade that came at the expense of pandemic preparation that would have made us more ready to contend with the disease. Despite repeated warnings of public health officials, Congress routinely underfunded pandemic response, but found billions of dollars for earmarks funding things like wild horse and burro management.

The embarrassing process of getting to yes on the latest coronavirus relief package wasn’t just about money. There was plenty of virtue-signaling as Democrats tried to use the bill as a vehicle for new environmental mandates on airlines, to direct private companies on how their corporate boards are selected, and other forms of politically correct tokenism meant to pander to their base.

Washington politicians focus incessantly on creating and exploiting partisan conflict. So, all of this nonsense made for bipartisan opportunities to finger-point, point-score, and posture. Right up until the last moment, politicians in both parties threatened to gum things up as a way to catch a self-serving headline.

Following passage, of course, members of Congress engaged in some bipartisan back-patting, praising themselves for coming to the rescue of America. But the reality is that the crisis has exposed the very worst instincts and tendencies of the Washington political class, and was a clear demonstration of why we need to disinfect the Capitol of professional politicians.

Here in Massachusetts, the Legislature has recognized its own opportunity for political advantage arising out of the crisis. State law requires candidates to collect petition signatures to get their name placed on the ballot. But social distancing has made collecting signatures next to impossible, especially for challenger candidates who do not have established political organizations or big bank accounts.

Although the virus prompted lawmakers to recently pass a bill making a variety of changes related to elections, they refused to include modifications to the petition requirements. There will almost certainly be incumbents who face no competition as a result.

Back in Washington, insider trading allegations swirl around senators who dumped millions in stock just before the market collapse sparked by the coronavirus. One of those senators, who is now under investigation, was downplaying the threat to the public even as he was selling off shares in apparent anticipation of economic calamity.

Meet the Author

Kevin O'Connor

Republican candidate, US Senate
All of this greed and selfishness stands in stark contrast to the selfless heroism demonstrated by medical professionals who risk their lives in order to care for complete strangers. They often have done so without so much as the proper protective gear, an infuriating reminder of Washington’s fiddling and foot-dragging.

Once the current crisis passes and life goes back to normal for most Americans, Congress will remain infected by petty partisanship and dysfunction. But Americans deserve leaders who are equal to their courage, generosity, and fundamental goodness. The current crowd sure isn’t. We need to clean House in November – and Senate, too. If we do that, then this crisis will not have gone to waste.

Kevin O’Connor is a Republican candidate for US Senate.