There’s an adage about the legislative process that says there are two things you never want to see being made: sausages and laws. With coronavirus aid being politicized by our U.S. Congress and our national executive branch producing problematic responses, our state and local level governments are being forced to do a lot of the heavy lifting in response to this pandemic.
Our reality is clear: hyper-partisanship has made it harder to address something like coronavirus.
Before I venture down this controversial road about our national and state governments, please recognize that my research and publications have centered on state and local government. I have never published about Congress (that lovable institution that over 70% of Americans loathe – myself included). But professionally, I worked as a staffer for three congressmen on both sides of the aisle. I also lobbied and provided policy research for several nonprofit Washington organizations. In addition, I worked as a nonpartisan policy research aide in the New Jersey legislature.
So as much as I have been a part of the legislative process at the national and state levels, I cannot purport to be a congressional scholar. But like many Americans, I remain concerned about our federal government. And coronavirus public policy approaches have reminded me about our inter-governmental but also inner-governmental (U.S. House of Representatives versus U.S. Senate) problems especially as I teach a U.S. Government class this semester.
This week we saw the ugly truth about government attempts and failures to address coronavirus aid. It is no secret that our state and local governments are suddenly burdened with finding more resources like getting a hold of more ventilators and other critical medical supplies.
At the same time, the federal government finally considered the return of the Defense Production Act, where it empowers itself to mandate that private sector industries produce more ventilators, medical face masks and other frontline resources. The unique dynamic of this Korean War-era law is that it centralizes leadership under the federal government. But should the Defense Production Act be utilized for a pandemic? President Donald Trump and others are concerned that the federal government is imposing its will onto the private sector.
But some of our tri-state area officials are demanding more laws and resources with so many ongoing coronavirus cases and deaths. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo are finding alternative ways to get retired health professionals to the frontlines and having midtown’s Jacob Javits Center hold thousands of beds as well as coordinate efforts with area Govs. Ned Lamont and Phil Murphy (New Jersey).
Of course, there’s been some politicizing between officials, branches and levels of government about these state and local approaches. One cannot ignore the ongoing feud between Cuomo and de Blasio, for example. On Meet the Press, New York’s mayor argued that the state and federal governments need to do more. National Governors Association Chairman and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan responded to the mayor that, “[M]aybe you ought to go talk with [Cuomo]!”
And then there’s our federal government. The White House and its executive scientific agencies have conflicting messages about coronavirus. Finally, Congress attempted, failed, and then passed a $2 trillion rescue package that was signed Friday by President Trump. It’s no surprise, though, that both chambers’ leaders and their political parties have been publicly sniping about each others’ pet projects and funding proposals in the legislation.
So coronavirus policies are facing various governmental and political barriers. In this era of heightened partisan politics, it should not be surprising that there are limitations to effective public policymaking — even during a pandemic. The problematic inner-governmental and poor intra-governmental relations (local, state, federal levels) are textbook examples of what is wrong with our current government and politics.
But this is also an ideal time to find better pathways of addressing our partisan politics and correlating our various levels of government. Coronavirus should be a reminder that rarely do governments and legislative processes run smoothly. We can do a better job of recognizing that our governments are nuanced and that during an emergency moment like now, our elected officials need to address policies in a timely and effective manner.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is an associate professor of political science and urban affairs at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. He also serves on the New Haven City Plan Commission and Republican State Central Committee.
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