by Kevin Henning, KCDP Chair
for the “Progressive Views” column, Boerne Star, March 27, 2020
I assume members of Trump’s staff have been pleading with him to act more Presidential. Wouldn’t Rudy Giuliani be calling and saying, Mr. President, here’s how you behave in a crisis. You stay informed, you listen to the experts and you direct planning for the worst. You don’t berate a reporter’s legitimate softball question that you could easily answer and show you are a bit of a leader. A misinformed liar has no place being President but that’s a matter for the fall.
Destroying the block and tackling of government has proved to be disastrous in so many ways, not just how it relates to our current crisis. Why cripple the IRS? They are the revenue arm of our government? The Taxpayer Advocate’s office urges Congress to increase funding for the IRS and called it “economically irrational to underfund the IRS.” Yet Republicans have gutted the agency, so the rich can get away with not paying taxes.
“The biggest issue the IRS faces is lack of resources after being underfunded for a long time. That shows up in customer service and audits. Also, the IT system is way out of date,” said Mark Mazur, director of the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center. “On all fronts they are under-resourced.”
Burdened with years of budget cuts and a recent increase in workload to implement a new tax law, the IRS struggles to deliver on its mission. The IRS has been late in sending legitimate refunds to many taxpayers and failed to answer the majority of phone calls from taxpayers. The agency also failed to collect billions in unpaid taxes. This means less money to help deal with challenges like COVID-19.
Destroying our basic science capacity is devastating. In the first two years of the Trump administration, more than 1,600 federal scientists left government, according to The Washington Post. That represents a 1.5% drop, compared with the 8% increase during the same period in the Obama administration. The Trump government has been shrinking our science capacity and in just three years, he has diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide. Trump appointees have shut down government studies, reduced the influence of scientists over regulatory decisions and in some cases pressured researchers not to speak publicly, according to a 2019 New York Times article. He has impeded research around human-caused climate change, perhaps the greatest threat to human existence after pandemics.
I cringe when I think about Grover Norquist’s irresponsible quote: “I’m not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.” The Trumpian elements of our society have allowed the basic services and support systems of our government to atrophy. They decry the so-called “deep state” then give tax breaks to the rich on the backs of the neediest in our society. The stock market and business are now more important than protecting our citizens from disease, hunger and the basics that human beings require to thrive—the blocking and tackling of government. During the transition, Obama staffers briefed the incoming Trump people on the risk of a viral pandemic. So, what did Trump do? He abolished the White House pandemic prevention office that was put in place by Obama. This has had a direct impact on efforts to deal with our current pandemic crisis.
Chip Roy, along with a handful of other Republicans, voted against the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The bill was supported by the White House and eventually passed the Senate. What constituency could he possibly be pandering to? I had called his office before the vote to urge him to support the bill and also urged that some longer-term thinking be brought to bear on the pandemic. We will need to massively strengthen our medical infrastructure and build lots of ventilators and radically increase hospital beds. We will need to train and redistribute physicians, nurses, and respiratory therapists to where they are most needed. We will need more masks, gloves, and gowns for our health-care workers. Most importantly, we need to develop a vaccine and other treatments to end the pandemic and save billions of people. With the new resolve that has finally developed, I believe we are on the road to bringing the pandemic under control. We can stick our head in the sand or we can work together to get through this crisis. Our nation has faced massive threats before and risen to the challenge and we can do it again.