Not long before I came to Washington to work for a U.S. Senator, Hurricane Agnes had pounded the East coast, leaving 128 people dead and causing billions of dollars in damages. Pennsylvania and New York were hardest hit with torrential floods.
Federal, state, and local governments as well as private citizens, churches, and relief agencies mobilized in response to what was then called the costliest hurricane ever to hit the United States.
One freshman senator marveled at the intense focus and the massive effort: “Government would be so much more effective if we could maintain this level of crisis response and direct as much energy to solving other problems,” he said.
So now we have Covid. We have been in a sustained and intense two-year crisis, and the national state of emergency continues. (Republicans actually got a measure through the Senate last week to terminate the emergency declaration, but it’s unlikely to pass the House.)
This week, Congress was embroiled in a debate over spending billions on top of the trillions already allocated for Covid. The Biden administration wants $30 billion more to buy vaccines, treatments, and tests. Speaker Pelosi says she thinks she can get a bill through the House for about half the amount.
Republicans are balking, pointing out about $1.5 trillion in Covid funding Congress previously approved hasn’t been spent, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. The GOP wants that money to be used before they approve more. (Democrats balk because blue states have more to lose if they don’t get their future portion of the unspent funds.)
So the battles over pandemic spending continue in Washington as the rest of the country tries hard to move on to normalcy.
Our nation has never been through an experience like Covid-19 that has affected nearly every one of us on a daily basis. Almost one million lives have been lost, countless businesses closed forever, schools shut down, millions of children are falling behind and failing, and countless hard-working people have lost their jobs for not complying with vaccine mandates.
We are not going to just spring out of this. Washington still controls the purchase of vaccines and treatments and allocates them according to its rules. You still have to wear a mask in some schools and on every airplane. (United Airlines announced yesterday employees who were fired for refusing the vaccine can come back to work March 28. How do these employees get compensated for the hardship and trauma they endured?)
We all have felt like guinea pigs in massive public health experiments with masks and lockdowns imposed under questionable scientific authority and even more-questionable scientific assessments of their effectiveness. Will people trust public health officials again after their failures over the last two years? Not likely.
It will be years before we can get enough perspective to see the impact these last two years will have had on our nation’s future.
We already are seeing the effects of the massive government spending with yesterday’s announcement that the February inflation rate hit nearly 8%. That is the tip of the iceberg.
We need visionary leadership for the course ahead. We will face another crisis—a new variant of Covid-19, another novel, deadly pathogen, or something worse.
We have a choice. We could slide into the doldrums of a European-style dependency state, living according to government mandates, dictates, and allocations.
Or we can rely on our touchstones and anchors—our values of freedom, free enterprise, rewards for risk and hard work.
We need government leaders who treat citizens like adults, while we all work to protect and care for the vulnerable. We all will be stronger for it.
We all are smarter for having been through this. Given accurate information and appropriate tools, we can be partners in guarding ourselves, our families, and our communities. And we can learn from Operation Warp Speed the proper role for government, working in conjunction with the private sector to unleash the genius of American innovation.
The Senator was wrong about wanting a permanent state of crisis. We’ve seen what that brings. America must get back to normal—a stronger new normal.