Biden acting presidential. Someone has to.
President-elect Joe Biden faces the prospects of President Donald Trump leaving him a pandemic on the rise and an economy in decline when Biden takes the oath of office Jan. 20.
Trump seems uninterested in the twin crises that continue to confront the nation — the resurgent coronavirus and its potential to tip the nation back into recession. But on Monday, finally, the General Services Administration began the transition process that will enable the Biden administration to better prepare for the challenges.
Nationally, confirmed coronavirus cases are up 54% over two weeks ago, deaths up 64%. Here in Connecticut, while the state started off in a better position than other parts of the nation, cases have spiked 85% in two weeks, deaths are up 65% and hospitalizations an alarming 117%.
This surge will likely reverse the economic recovery as consumer spending slows, people further retreat from restaurants, stores and other bricks-and-mortar retail, and unemployment again begins to rise.
Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s Analytics, who accurately warned of the severity of the downturn caused by the initial outbreak in the spring, points to an economic retrenchment in the first half of 2021, particularly if no significant additional stimulus package is passed by Congress.
According to Zandi, companies could drop 3 million jobs and the unemployment rate, now 6.9%, could be headed back towards 10%.
Trump continues to leave it to states to determine their respective COVID-19 responses, offering no national vision for trying to bend the spike in cases. Even when warnings are offered, they fall flat because there is no backing from the White House.
Such was the case a week before Thanksgiving when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urgently warned against gathering on the holiday with others outside the household. But there was no corresponding amplification from the president, no address to the nation urging Americans to make the tough but safe choice and pass on larger Thanksgiving gatherings, no executive orders to limit travel. As a result, more than 3 million Americans passed through the nation’s airports this past weekend, by far the highest activity since the outbreak began. Indications point to an even greater surge of infections after Thanksgiving.
Likewise, the out-going president has shown no interest with involving himself, during the lame-duck session, in seeking a compromise on another stimulus bill between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democrat-controlled House of Representatives.
In attempt to fill the pandemic-response void, Biden formed a Transition COVID-19 Advisory Board, consisting of 13 physicians and health experts to help guide his response. Among the co-chairs is Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, associate dean for health equity research at the Yale School of Medicine, who acted as an advisor to the Reopen Connecticut Committee. The Biden advisory panel faces the prospect that the viral outbreak could be far worse by the time Biden takes office, meaning more lives lost before vaccines arrive to arrest the spread.
Until Monday, there was no formal means for the Biden panel to communicate about the hand off of responsibilities from their expert counterparts in the current administration. In allowing the process to start, Trump tweeted he was acting "in the best interest of our Country." Better late than never.
Also in an attempt to act where the incumbent has not, Biden is reportedly pushing Democratic leaders in Congress to seek a speedy stimulus deal with Senate Republicans, even if it falls well short of the larger package Democrats seek. That is the right approach, and we urge Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, and Second District Congressman Joe Courtney, all Democrats, to push their party leaders toward a deal.
Yes, the $500 billion package backed by Senate Republicans falls woefully short of the need. But it would support extended unemployment benefits, $100 billion for schools dealing with the virus, and includes funding for testing and vaccine development and distribution. And the Republican Senate has voted to reauthorize another round of the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, critically important to prevent business closings. (Disclosure: The Day took part in the earlier round of PPP.)
Unfortunately, and most critically, the Senate version does not include assistance for state and local governments hit by losses of tax revenues and facing layoffs, service reductions and tax hikes. Still, Biden recognizes some relief is better than none and without it the economic hole his administration faces is likely to be deeper.
Pass a “skinny” stimulus bill, then renew the debate after Biden takes office.
Editor's note: This editorial was updated to reflect breaking news events.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.
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A committee's recommendations are just that — recommendations — which do not become policy until acted on by the council and mayor. There will be ample time for public input. That conversation begins next Wednesday.
'Today, on this January day, my whole soul is in this — bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause,' the president declared.
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