May 13, 2020

House Poised to Pass Relief and Set up Partisan Negotiations

The House appears poised Friday to pass the $3 trillion Democratic proposal for the next coronavirus economic relief package, yet final bipartisan agreement remains elusive for now.

Given the bill’s price tag and that it was put together with little Republican input, it was essentially DBA – dead before arrival. However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi views it as important and its passage could put pressure on Senate Republicans and the White House.

Expect contentious negotiations between congressional Democrats and the White House that appear likely to result in another coronavirus package in mid to late June. But the biggest factor in what comes next will be outside the negotiating room in how the virus and the economy unfold during the next three to four weeks.

Democrats are betting health and economic conditions will worsen and increase pressure on congressional Republicans and President Trump for another large package. Republicans are hoping conditions will improve and strengthen their hand against Democratic demands in favor of a smaller bill, likely under $500 billion.

Most experts are predicting more job losses and economic contractions through May. Under those conditions, the negotiations could be likely to result in a package of around $1 trillion and perhaps more, notwithstanding the unease this would cause some Republicans.

Are Voters Mailing It In?

Despite unprecedented challenges to large gatherings, only five states—Washington, Oregon, Utah, Colorado and Hawaii—currently allow mail-in voting in all elections. Another 34 states and Washington, D.C. allow absentee voting for any reason.

Some states, like Indiana and New York, have made special mail-in accommodations for this year’s primary elections. But few states have committed to conducting the 2020 fall general election by mail.

California, with one of the highest confirmed COVID-19 tallies, is a notable exception. Governor Gavin Newsom announced last week that all California residents will receive a mail-in ballot, although polling places will remain open.

On the other hand, Massachusetts, which has the fourth highest case count in the country, currently only allows absentee voting for certain reasons.

A patchwork of predominantly central and Western states allow mail-in elections under certain conditions:

  1. Allowing counties to opt-in to mail-in elections
  2. Allowing some types of elections—like local or nonpartisan issue elections—to be conducted by mail
  3. Allowing mail-in elections in certain jurisdictions, or portions of jurisdictions, under a certain population threshold where in-person voting is inefficient.

Universal mail-in voting has long faced criticism based on cost, logistical challenges and integrity concerns. But COVID-19 could push universal mail-in voting—or at least, any-excuse absentee voting— over the edge.

COVID-19 By The Numbers

Care Interrupted

Laser-focused on a public health emergency, are we losing ground on prevention?

Talk of a coronavirus vaccine dominates. But according to a new CDC study, routine vaccinations plummeted in March and April of this year— some for diseases much deadlier and more contagious than COVID-19.

There were 2.5 million fewer doses of childhood vaccines ordered – not including the flu vaccine – the first four months of this year as compared to last year. This could result in an increase of other infectious diseases, such as polio and the measles, as people begin to move about more freely.

Other data show preventive cancer screenings are down between 86% and 94%. This could mean many cancer cases go undiagnosed or are diagnosed later with poorer prognoses.

But it’s not just prevention. General routine care appears to be down as well.

The New England Journal of Medicine reported that imaging for stroke evaluation was 39% lower in 49 states from March 26 to April 8 as compared to February. And recent Harvard research shows in-person primary care visits have cratered overall.

COVID-19 is taking far too many lives directly. But the longer this continues, the more other preventable deaths could rise.

I Heard It Through The Grapevine

The virus is breathing new life into old debates as journalists discover the tension between investigation and invasion exists as much in the virtual world as it does in the physical.

Reporters have been forced to adapt their work practices according to public health guidelines even as demand for information skyrockets. Reporting, broadcasting and editing stories from home and limiting shared newsrooms and vans is becoming the norm for most in the industry. Seventy-one percent of Americans think the pandemic has changed the way journalists do their jobs.

But as Financial Times journalist Mark Di Stefano recently discovered, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Di Stefano obtained a Zoom login to a private meeting of fellow London newspapers – The Independent and the Evening Standard – as management was advising staff of furloughs and wage cuts. After being spotted virtually entering the meeting by the rival outlets’ journalists and reporting on the meeting, he was suspended before resigning.

For the media intercepting private phone calls— particularly in the UK in the wake of the News of the World hacking scandal— there are clear no-go zones. For the Financial Times, at least, the same standard now applies to online meetings.

But if working from home stays widespread post-pandemic, the gray area of digital reporting ethics may become more black and white globally.