Washington’s paralysis is deepening America’s inequality

© SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images

(CNN)-There was another key step in the incredibly thorough US drug approval process toward a vaccine today as an FDA panel recommended approval for Pfizer. Final approval could come within days.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who has now met with President-elect Joe Biden’s health policy team, said Thursday that 20 million Americans could be vaccinated within weeks.

A 9/11 every day for 90 days

That, coming on the back of reports from Britain about vaccinations starting there, seems to be driving a feeling of optimism that we might finally be on the verge of defeating the virus, even as it continues to spread and kill people.

Not so fast. It’s going to kill a lot more people. More than 3,000 Americans deaths were reported Wednesday — a new record, and more than died on September 11, 2001, or in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

That 9/11 threshold of 3,000 deaths could be sustained for 60 to 90 days. That’s according to CDC Director Robert Redfield, who spoke Thursday to the Council on Foreign Relations.

“We are in the timeframe now that probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had in 9/11,” Redfield said. “This is really, as I said, this is going to be a real unfortunate loss of life, as all that we’ve had so far, and the reality is the vaccine approval this week is not going to really impact.”

Related: Here’s the latest on the virus.

Why it’s worse for the US — One of the reasons why he believes Americans are at greater risk of death is because “we’re an unhealthier nation,” as we have a significant number of people in the nation with “chronic co-morbidities.”

Horribly flawed argument — If you talk to enough Covid deniers like the ones who bark at me on social media, this is their gripe. It’s the other things killing people — the co-morbidities — not the Covid. That line of thinking — that these people would die anyway, so why blame Covid? — is too craven to humor with a response. Read here about how Covid deaths are documented by the government.

And here’s a study suggesting men are much more likely to be admitted to the ICU with Covid.


The Covid burden is falling harder on some

The long-term effects of what we’ve done to the US economy by distancing and sporadically locking down are yet to be written, but this story by Jeanne Sahadi at CNN Business documents how the immediate effect of this virus has been to open a larger gulf between the people who benefit in the current economy and those who struggle.

I’m largely borrowing her words below (the bold subheads are mine).

Affecting some more than others — For many Americans, the economic effects of the pandemic have been devastating. Millions have lost jobs. Food and housing insecurity has soared. And roughly half of US households reported a drop in income this year, according to Bankrate.com.

Life will get worse for them if they don’t get more financial help or paying work soon.

But others — lucky enough to keep their jobs and even work from home — have ended up financially better off, or at least unaffected, thanks to such factors as a rising stock market, increased savings, or a boost in demand for their business.

Barnell Garrett was a hotel manager in Seattle. But a furlough became layoff — Garrett’s unemployment benefits expire at the end of December, and he doesn’t know if he’ll qualify for an extension. His health insurance costs are now $641 a month, well above the $150 he was paying when his employer subsidized his premiums. He’s considering withdrawing about $25,000 from his 401(k) to pay off the extra credit card debt he accrued during the pandemic to pay for groceries and insurance, as well as a private loan he took out a few years ago…

Hotels may not bounce back and other options don’t pay well  Garrett said he doesn’t expect the hotel industry, where he’s built his career, to bounce back quickly so he’s looking at other industries for a job. He’s willing to take a pay cut, but is shocked at how low the pay on offer is — even when an employer requires a college degree and years of experience.

“Several of the jobs I interviewed for initially looked like good-paying jobs, but during the interview I learned that they pay barely above Seattle’s $15 minimum wage and are lower than my monthly unemployment,” Garrett said.

Olivia Bukosky lost a property management job, drained her 401k, and can’t afford a lawyer for a divorce  Like Garrett, Bukosky is also looking for work outside her chosen field. She’s been applying for jobs and even getting interviews, but so far no offers. “I’m looking for everything. I just need to work.”

She has friends to lend emotional support, but she’s hesitant to open up. “A friend reached out today and I didn’t want to tell him how I was doing because I didn’t have anything good to say. I’m like a broken record,” Bukosky said. “It’s just been a terrible year.”

Things are going very differently for a real estate lawyer (low rates, good sales) and a veterinarian (all those pandemic puppies!). She talked to retirees who haven’t seen much change, except less eating out and losing a year of their social lives.

The point is that it may be hard for everyone to feel the full effect of this pandemic because while the distance and lockdowns have affected every single American, not everyone has lost their stability like many, many millions of Americans out of work or pivoting from a field that has literally ceased functioning (travel, hotels, restaurants, etc).


Congress hasn’t moved an inch

I feel like a broken record here, but they’re STILL trying to figure out a stimulus package that most politicians from both parties agree is necessary.

This is the aggravating truth of Congress — The vast majority of members want to spend $1 trillion or more, but because of fighting about the details, today it feels like they’ll spend nothing. Here are the sticking points:


  1. Sticking point: state money — Democrats are stuck on giving money to state and local governments. Republicans argue that rewards previously fiscally unsound behavior (I can’t wait for Republicans to start talking about deficit and debt when Trump is out of office.)
  2. Sticking point: indemnity — Conversely, Senate Republicans want to protect businesses from Covid-related liability lawsuits, which Democrats say will give businesses license to put their employees in harm’s way.
  3. Sticking point: direct aid — Democrats want to shore up unemployment benefits AND give stimulus checks to people struggling to find work. The White House offered to trade unemployment benefits for putting stimulus checks in the proposal, a non-starter for most Democrats.


Trump could get Republicans to vote for things. This was one extreme benefit of having a Republican president when the pandemic hit — he was able to get GOP members who have previously (and soon will again) complained about government spending, to vote in favor of trillions in previous stimulus that kept the economy afloat.

Even though the two parties agree on so much that could be done, they’re treating this like a zero-sum standoff.


Texas v. US democracy

CNN’s Dan Berman and Ariane de Vogue have a very smart explainer on the Texas challenge to election results. I’ll put what I think are the most important parts below, but read the entire thing here.


The Supreme Court has 6 conservatives. Does that guarantee Trump will win?

No. The court has thus far shown no desire to intervene in the presidential election.

On Tuesday, it rejected the plea from Pennsylvania Republicans to invalidate the state’s presidential tallies. It issued one sentence and noted zero dissents. (Justices don’t always have to make their votes public.)

Trump has suggested publicly that he hopes his nominees — Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch — will side with him on any election dispute. Conservative Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito are also ones to watch. No justice is required to recuse him or herself from the dispute; Barrett, notably, did not recuse herself in the Pennsylvania lawsuit.


When will we hear from the court?

The justices acted quickly in rejecting the Pennsylvania lawsuit on Tuesday, but they could bide their time as they have in other election-related cases.

They do “meet” Friday for their regular conference, now held over the phone.

Unlike a traditional cert petition (request for the court to hear a case), it will take five justices to agree to allow Paxton to file his suit.


Then what?

If the court refuses to take up the lawsuit, it’s another nail in the coffin for Trump’s hopes to reverse his election loss.

If it acts in the other direction, it will be another dramatic and unprecedented turn in the 2020 election, guaranteeing the President will continue to challenge Biden’s victory.