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Coronavirus Response Highlights Myriad Problems With American Politics and Policies

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/J. David Ake

The illness and death wrought by the coronavirus, and the economic fallout from the federal and state governments’ responses to it, are truly frightening to behold, resulting in wrenching changes to peoples’ lives and livelihoods.


Rahm Emanuel, a former senior advisor to President Clinton, chief-of-staff to President Barack Obama, and the mayor of Chicago, is infamous for his quip, “never let a good crisis to go to waste when it’s an opportunity to do things that you had never considered, or that you didn't think were possible.”

Taking Emanuel’s admonishment to heart, Democrats played politics with peoples’ lives during the coronavirus stimulus bill negotiation. Rather than passing a clean bill to quickly disperse money to workers and small businesses, Democrats used the crisis to extort liberal policy concessions from Republicans.

What does increasing the collective bargaining power of public employee unions have to do with delivering needed aid to those sickened by or left unemployed by coronavirus? Nothing!

What does extending subsidies to massive solar and wind energy companies have to do with fighting the coronavirus? Nothing!

As planes fly empty or sit idle on runways, and flight crews and support staff file for unemployment, what does forcing airlines to cut carbon dioxide emissions have to do with keeping the industry afloat amidst the pandemic? Nothing!

What does more millions of dollars for the Washington swamp creatures’ favorite performance hall, the Kennedy Center, have to do with Coronavirus relief? Nothing!


People are dying, being hospitalized, and struggling with sudden and startling joblessness. They are wondering how they will afford their next trip to the grocery store or pay their mortgage, rent or other bills. Shamefully, Democrats ignored the urgent needs of hardworking American people by choosing to play a political game of chicken in an attempt to pay off political constituencies including environmentalists, unions, and big green energy billionaires. This is disgraceful!

Adding insult to injury, over time, federal and state governments have imposed a number of policies that have slowed the response to the coronavirus and could exacerbate its damage.

Because of the byzantine U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval process, it takes more than 10 years and $2.6 billion on average for a new medicine or medical devise to become commercially available. For COVID-19, federal regulators are promising to cut the red tape and rush a treatment to market, ignoring the normal process. But what about the next pandemic? And what does this say about the process itself and about the millions of people suffering from existing illnesses or who are dying because FDA regulations slow the development of drugs that could save or improve their lives? The coronavirus highlights the need for substantial FDA reform to speed the normal drug approval process, obviating the need to short-circuit it during pandemics or similar health crises.


Then there are state Certificate of Need (CON) laws. About 30 states have laws in place to protect big hospitals and hospital chains from competition, having established boards or commissions who review and approve or deny the creation of new clinics, hospitals, and medical facilities, and even the medical devices or technologies used therein. In states with CON laws, when a company or group of doctors wishes to open a new medical facility it must receive approval from the regulatory body that looks at the number of beds, MRIs, incubators, respirators, etc. in the area it would service and then, pretending to have infinite wisdom, decide whether such a facility and its additional devices are “necessary” to serve the population.

Rather than letting the medical facility open, and bear the risk of success or failure in the marketplace—as we do with restaurants, stores, tattoo parlors and the like—possibly offering better, more timely, less expensive health services, CON law commissions, with the support of big hospital chains, often deny new facilities.

These regulations stifle innovation and competition—as they were designed to do from the start—and are partly responsible for the shortage of beds and critical medical devices that currently plague cities confronting the Wuhan coronavirus pandemic. Now legislators and governors, they who caused the shortages, are praying the federal government will bail them out by building emergency hospitals and supplying critical medical equipment.


The COVID-19 crisis also highlights a harmful nanny-state anti-freedom policy pushed by misanthropic environmental scolds that endangers public health: plastic bag bans. Plastic bags, straws, utensils, and Styrofoam containers are the most sterile means of transporting cooked, raw, and packaged foods. Yet many cities and states across the nation have banned them. These draconian bans have forced restaurants to package leftovers and carry-out foods in less sterile cardboard containers, which, unlike plastic, either leak or absorb spilled liquid and moisture from hot foods creating breeding grounds for bacteria.

In addition, in many states and cities, shoppers at grocery stores are forced by law to use either paper bags or reusable bags to transport their groceries. Reusable bags also absorb moisture and studies show, in normal use, are a breeding ground for potentially deadly pathogens. During the coronavirus pandemic, in cities and states where they have forced restaurants to close except for providing carry-out, if they have also banned plastic and Styrofoam containers, they are putting pick-up patrons at unnecessary health risk.

Before the shock and horror of the COVID-19 crisis fades from the public’s attention, while the headlines and lead stories are fresh in peoples' minds, now is the time to demand changes in our nation’s politics and policies. Politicians who delay or defeat emergency relief measures during a crisis, to reward special interests by extorting political concessions, should be voted out of office.


Sadly, this tactic is all too common during end of year budget battles when the threat is “give me what I want or I’ll shut down the government.” In addition, now is the time for the public to demand FDA reform, and an end to state CON laws and state and local plastic bag bans. These misguided policies threaten public health and the environment.

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