The Washington Post published an editorial late last week reiterating exactly what we’ve been saying in this column— serious policy initiatives are being pushed during this pandemic while fewer Americans are paying attention. They open their editorial with this:
“Republicans in Congress have cautioned Democrats not to use emergency legislation intended to rescue the economy as a vehicle to achieve long-sought progressive goals. We think the warnings are, for the most part, fair. Meanwhile, though, the Trump administration and its conservative allies are using the pandemic as cover to advance long-standing policy goals and launch new fronts in the nation’s culture wars. By intensifying efforts at deregulation and broadening restrictions on abortion and immigration, the White House and Republicans in GOP-dominated states are waging the war against covid-19 as a continuation of politics by other means.”
From “shutting down immigration” at the federal level, to classifying abortion as a “non-essential medical procedure” at the state level, governments around us are using the guise of the pandemic as a reason to publicly push policy on items that are currently not relevant to the spread of Covid-19.
Yet, even worse is the push to pass policy using the distraction of a global health crisis to prevent Americans from becoming aware or fighting back against a bevy of hidden new policies and regulations.
“In fact, Mr. Trump’s announcement, whatever the forthcoming particulars, is of a piece with his recent moves during the pandemic to pursue unrelated priorities in his agenda — for instance, slashing emission levels for commercial vehicles, among other rollbacks of Obama-era environmental measures,” continued WaPo.
One particularly egregious new initiative, is the President’s renewed attack on the US Postal Service.
“The Postal Service is a joke,” Trump said, launching into a sneering list of complaints, including the common and false contention that it loses money by delivering for Amazon.com. If they don’t raise the price, I’m not signing anything,” Trump said, asserting that the USPS should raise the price of package delivery “four times.”
USPS was already suffering prior to the pandemic, but current circumstances have led to a further decline in mail volume that have dramatically reduced its revenues. USPS is the only division of the US government mandated to make a profit, and also required to prepay 75 years of worker retirement benefits. These two mandates have given the service an onerous burden that no other government entity in the nation shares. And yet, last week the President threatened to not support a $10 billion loan to the agency included in Congress’ pandemic rescue packages.
An attack on an institution during a national health emergency is one thing. However, an attack on a nation’s own citizens is entirely another. And yet, the Trump administration is doing just that. Last week it was revealed that President Trump’s administration was about to roll back policies prohibiting discrimination against LGBT people seeking healthcare.
Politico reports: “The health department is close to finalizing its long-developing rewrite of Obamacare’s Section 1557 provision, which barred health care discrimination based on sex and gender identity. The administration’s final rule on Thursday was circulated at the Justice Department, a step toward publicly releasing the regulation in the coming days, said two people with knowledge of the pending rule. The White House on Friday morning also updated a regulatory dashboard to indicate that the rule was under review. Advocates fear that it would allow hospitals and health workers to more easily discriminate against patients based on their gender or sexual orientation. … “If the final rule is anything like the proposed rule, HHS is adopting changes that would be harmful in the best of times but that are especially cruel in the midst of a global pandemic that is disproportionately affecting vulnerable communities and exacerbating disparities,” said Katie Keith, a lawyer and Georgetown professor who’s tracked the rule.”
One may wonder how this is an essential policy change during the largest public health crisis in 100 years. And the answer is, it isn’t. Instead, it seems that our nation’s President is using an emergency to pass discriminatory regulations when the fewest people are paying attention. An HHS spokesperson when questioned, said, “we do not comment on the rule-making process and refer you to recent public filings made by the Department of Justice before the Supreme Court on what constitutes sex discrimination under civil rights laws.”
Let that sink in. That’s a representative of our government saying, “we do not comment on the rule-making process.”
According to a Vox report from April 24, the new rule is expected to go into effect in the middle of the pandemic.
This is a long way of saying this: While you are home sterilizing your mail and joking on Twitter about social distancing, pay some attention the political world around you. Things are changing dramatically in so many sectors. You don’t want to be caught off guard when the pandemic ends and you walk out into a new country.