Donald Trump shouldn’t be blamed for the coronavirus outbreak any more than the asteroid moving past Earth April 29. However, he is responsible for his response to the escalating emergency, and he’s downplayed danger while almost 140,000 in more than 130 countries have the virus, killing thousands; he values profits over people, reelection over public welfare and pride over competence.
Trump’s proposed budget and chaotic administration weaken federal agencies. He blames political rivals and said World Health Organization (WHO) reports were “false,” and dismissed the coronavirus (COVID-19) as “very mild” and, on Feb. 28, a “hoax.” (Conservative commentator Bill Kristol said, “The coronavirus is not a hoax. That it is spreading is not a hoax. Being alarmed about this is not a hoax. Questioning the government’s response, and suggesting additional steps, is not a hoax.”)
Trump’s $4.8 trillion budget proposal is an all-time-high request but cuts $2 trillion, mostly in safety-net programs, including 10% from Health and Human Services, 16% from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 53% from WHO, and 75% from the Pan American Health Organization – all while boosting Pentagon spending some 8%.
“Trump’s budget proposal is unforgivable,” said Illinois’ U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, a Democrat. “Instead of helping working-class Americans and people with pre-existing conditions, he’s demanding billions for his border wall and slashing critical programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.”
(As the has devastation has mounted, Trump increased his budget proposal.)
State and local health departments and hospitals are making plans.
“The risk here currently is low,” said Monica Hendrickson, administrator at the Peoria City/County Health Department, which opened an Emergency Operations Center. “However, this is a fluid situation, and this can change rather drastically and quickly. There is an eventuality that we will see it here.”
Shelli Dankoff of OSF HealthCare said that that system is ready but advises common-sense prevention.
“We encourage everyone during this time to practice good hand hygiene, to cover any cough, and to stay home and away from groups where illnesses are easily spread if you are not feeling well,” she said. “If you feel you are at risk for having the COVID-19, please call ahead to your provider’s office or one of OSF’s urgent-care clinics or PromptCares, so that we can be prepared to treat you promptly and appropriately.”
Nationally, however, 28 million Americans remain uninsured, according to Kaiser Family Foundation, and even people with insurance face deductibles and co-pays. Also, millions work without sick leave – the Labor Department says some 60% of part-time workers have no sick leave, like about half of all those interacting with others in restaurants and hotels.
On Wall Street, a falling stock market reacts to disruptions in business and may also show doubts about White House wherewithal, for good reason. A November report from the Center for Strategic and International Studies said, “The United States remains woefully ill-prepared to respond to global health security threats.”
Then Trump lied about a pending vaccine, which could actually take years to develop, and his Health Secretary Alex Azar (a former pharmaceutical executive) said there’s no assurance any future immunization would be affordable (unlike free polio vaccines in the 1950s). Astonishingly, Trump suggested a “middle-income tax cut” to deal with the crisis.
In Washington, two of Trump’s many purges had Rear Adm. Tim Ziemer, the National Security Council’s head of global health security, leave the administration, part of the whole Ebola pandemic response chain of command’s 2018 removal, and Trump fired Tom Bossert, Homeland Security’s adviser coordinating the response to global pandemics. Bossert’s job remains vacant.
Trump’s budget also targets federal funds for states’ disadvantaged K-12 students, to the Education Department, and student loan assistance, plus ending the public-service loan program that forgives federal student loans for police, teachers, government employees and others after 10 years of public service.
Further, his budget cuts 16.4% from Housing and Urban Development, including affordable housing initiatives and, separately, guts the Department of Agriculture’s rural housing programs; cuts 26.5% from the Environmental Protection Agency; and reduces the Energy Department 8.1%.
It also extends for a decade the expiring 2017 tax cuts that mostly benefited corporations and the rich.
“There always seems to be plenty of money for millionaires and big corporations but never enough money to do anything for working people,” said AFL-CIO deputy policy director Kelly Ross.
Besides twisted budget priorities, Americans can see when disasters are bungled, whether Trump and Puerto Rico or George W. Bush and Katrina. And apart from an election, will we demand action?