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Commentary: Keep politics out of COVID-19 fight

By Wes Mader Community Columnist Apr 21, 2020

In response to the crisis caused by the coronavirus, Congress passed the single largest emergency spending bill in history, the CARES Act of 2020. Some perspective might be helpful for readers to decide whether the $2 trillion CARES package is critical to stopping COVID-19 or whether its more about politics than a cure.

In two short months our nation has gone from a historic booming economy to potential collapse, caused by a rapidly spreading dangerous virus capable of killing tens or hundreds of thousands.

Neither our nation nor any other country in the world was prepared, all lacking experience to address a health calamity of this magnitude. Action was needed at both federal and state levels to stop the virus spread, hopefully without irreparably damaging our economy. Gut-wrenching decisions would have to be made without the benefit of past experience.

The CARES Act passed with a unanimous vote in the Senate and overwhelming bipartisan support in the House. On March 27, with infections and fatalities climbing, the bill was signed by President Donald Trump. As might be expected from politically divided government where politics often trumps principle, the legislation has both good and bad.

First, the good. The CARES Act provides funding for organizations on the front line fighting the virus and for individual Americans in need. It includes financial support to keep corporations afloat.

For those who rail against corporate bailouts, as I’m inclined to do, let’s be reminded that if companies fail and go out of business, there will be no jobs for Americans to return to when the virus is under control. This is not a bailout of poorly managed companies (like the GM bailout of 2008 and 2009). COVID-19 has affected almost all companies, and we need those companies to survive. The fact that Republicans and Democrats joined hands for a common cause is encouraging.

Now, the bad. As always, some in Congress who “never want a serious crisis to go to waste” acted as predicted. The relief package, whose purpose is “to prevent, to prepare for, and respond to coronavirus,” is loaded with provisions that have nothing to do with coronavirus.

A small sampling from a Wall Street Journal article (“Big-Government Contagion,” March 27) of what agencies get extra funding includes the National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities, $75 million; NASA, $60 million; the Forest Service, $37 million; the Kennedy Center, $25 million; and so on.

According to an earlier Wall Street Journal article, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, backed by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, was demanding that the relief package include airline emission standards. I’m not aware that exhaust from an aircraft engine carries the virus, but possibly Pelosi and Schumer know something we don’t.

The almost 900-page CARES Act has good stuff in it, but it also has more pork than a well-stocked butcher shop. Sadly, the lack of integrity by some in Congress, who seem more interested in pet priorities than the well-being of our country, delayed final passage of the CARES Act and inflated the price tag. They ought to be ashamed, but sadly they’ve learned how to play the game.

There are also conscientious lawmakers in Congress who object to this abuse of legislative process. However, if they had fought to trim every bit of pork from the bill, its passage would have been too late to support individuals or businesses from the onslaught of coronavirus. Conscientious members of Congress did what they often have to do to get anything done, pinch their noses and vote yes. They deserve our applause.

For all its faults, I’m pleased the CARES Act was passed. It alone will not stop the virus or prevent economic collapse, but hopefully it will provide individuals and business with the time needed to do what needs to be done. It’s now up to Americans standing shoulder to shoulder, doing what Americans do best, taking care of their families and neighbors and taking care of business.

And it’s up to our business leaders to bring the full strength of our free enterprise system into the battle, to provide the tools needed to fight COVID-19 and leadership to keep our economy afloat.

To politicians who view COVID-19 as political opportunity, to scammers who want to use it for gain, and to protesters who see it as a chance to publicly skewer someone, please step aside and let our president, governor, health care workers, first responders and millions of other Americans do their jobs.

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Wes Mader is a former Prior Lake mayor. Following retirement after serving as president of Bowmar Aerospace and Defense in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Wes and his wife Char retired in Prior Lake.