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The United States response to the novel coronavirus pandemic is a story of delay, and how much our delay will cost us. Two epidemiologists wrote in The New York Times on Wednesday that intervening a week earlier to implement social distancing and other mitigation measures could have saved tens of thousands of American lives. The federal government delayed action to make COVID-19 testing widely available, a problem that persists and will delay our ability to lift our complete economic lockdown. That delay will likely cost more jobs and deepen the economic downturn. The feds delayed action to build out hospital capacity, and to secure masks and PPE and ventilators on the scale we knew would be required. It is no big mystery why the federal government was slow to respond. The CDC made some mistakes of its own, but this goes to the top.
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Yes, delay has been the story, and the newest chapter involves the relief checks that Congress cut to American citizens as part of the $2 trillion response package it passed last month. Originally, there were concerns that some people could see months of delay before they receive the $1,200 earmarked for them if they do not already have direct deposit set up with the IRS. (You can now set this up more easily, and physical checks will reportedly soon go out.) But there's always room for more delay, and now some physical checks may arrive a few days later than they could have because the Treasury Department has ordered Donald Trump's name printed on them before they can go out. (Treasury denies there will be a delay. Two IRS officials told the Washington Post there likely will be.) As many as 70 million Americans may need to wait for money they vitally need—perhaps after they lost a job, and when rent is due—because the president wants them to know where it came from.
Never mind that this is not Donald Trump's money. This is like with the stockpile of ventilators and other supplies that the president—and the Dauphin—talk about like it's their personal property, which they believe they're free to hand out as they please in what increasingly looks like a patronage system. This money is not actually theirs, it's the property of the American public. It does not belong to or come from the people we hired on a temporary basis to manage the Executive Branch. The Post tells us this is the first time a president's name will appear on an IRS disbursement. Normally, it has the name of a civil servant to avoid the appearance of partisan politics. Ha!
However, "the president is not an authorized signer for legal disbursements by the U.S. Treasury," the Post reports, which has lead to a perfect turn of events:
The checks will instead bear Trump’s name in the memo line, below a line that reads, “Economic Impact Payment,” the administration officials said.
This is perfect. In his push to make the public believe these relief checks are from him, the president has, in putting his name in the "memo" field, made it clear that he's really just making this about him. Which is, of course, the story of his pandemic response and of his presidency. The petty personal feuds with governors who fail to pledge sufficient loyalty to him are about him. The incessant talk of the "ratings" his press conferences get is about him. The delay is about him.
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