Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in the United States, Congress and the Trump Administration has taken action to help American citizens and business weather the storm.
Editor’s Note: This article was published on March 31, 2020. This article discusses legislative matters up to the aforementioned date.
I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve,” Imperial Japan’s Admiral Yamamoto in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!
In late February, the second session of the 116th Congress promised to be lame well before the lame duck.
Some inroads on FY2021 appropriations were expected prior to the Democratic and GOP National Conventions in July and August, but conventional wisdom suggested even here a Continuing Resolution to keep government running would be needed to get past the election.
Beyond that, there were few expectations that Washington could achieve much of anything besides keeping the lights on given the sharp partisan divide and the high-stakes election in November.
Then came a new sense of urgency in combating the coronavirus pandemic. In just three short weeks, the Trump Administration and Congress have unleashed a torrent of legislative and administrative initiatives aimed at meeting the health and economic impacts of the COVID-19 virus head on.
In week one, Congress approved the supplemental request of the Trump Administration providing $8.3 billion to, among other things, procure vaccines and medical supplies and provide grants to state and local health agencies.
By week two, Congress passed a second response aimed at providing paid leave, sick leave, expanded Medicaid and unemployment insurance benefits, and free testing for COVID-19.
In week three, the President signed into law a massive third response package, totaling about $2.3 trillion to provide direct assistance for low and middle income wage earners, small businesses, and airlines, as well as enhanced unemployment benefits.
This package also included help for America’s farmers and ranchers, with a $14 billion replenishment of the Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) to allow USDA to develop a successor to the MFP for the 2020 crop year, another $9.5 billion for relief from COVID-19 related economic losses, including for livestock and specialty crops, and an additional $34.9 billion to USDA to carry out its work.
These extraordinary steps do not include the numerous actions by the Federal Reserve, including lowering interest rates to near zero, the President’s emergency declaration under the Stafford Act making roughly $50 billion in aid available, including 75 percent cost share with states in covering the response to the virus, and the President’s invocation of the Defense Production Act allowing the United States government to recruit industry to mass produce things like ventilators, masks, and medical supplies.
Now the seeds of a fourth package, focused on infrastructure, are being planted, where a Highway Bill, a Water Resources Development Act reauthorization, and additional help to agriculture may well be a part.
It was noteworthy that the President welcomed the second legislative response to COVID-19, which was largely crafted by House Democrats, and that Speaker Pelosi applauded the President’s invocation under the Defense Production Act, urging him to take immediate action under his new authorities. But it was surreal to read that Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) was praising the President’s actions in tackling the impacts of the COVID-19 virus.
President Trump has called himself a wartime president in confronting what’s been dubbed by some as World War C. This reminds us of the fateful decision of Imperial Japan to attack the then neutral United States at Pearl Harbor and Admiral Yamamoto’s reported thoughts on the attack at the top of this column.
These are trying times — though they still pale by comparison to other challenges our country has faced and conquered, including World War II and the Great Depression. Nonetheless, amidst hard times, it is encouraging to see signs that an oft divided country is making efforts to unify in order to rise and meet the challenge.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2020 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine in the Capitol Hill department.