Two very different approaches to public service were on display in the U.S. Senate last week.
One was promising: A bipartisan group of lawmakers led by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, were building consensus around a $908 billion COVID-19 relief bill for struggling Americans.
The other attempt at leadership in Washington was a distracting sideshow: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R- Oshkosh, held a congressional hearing to question the medical community’s advice and motives just as vaccines are arriving in Wisconsin to help defeat the deadly virus. Johnson accomplished little more than confusing and dividing Americans as he touted alternative treatments for COVID-19 that “just might be incredibly effective.” At least one of the drugs highlighted at Johnson’s hearing, hydroxychloroquine, was revoked for emergency use by the Food and Drug Administration because the risks of taking it could outweigh the benefits.
Johnson did succeed at his main goal of impressing the conspiratorial and soon-to-be-former President Donald Trump, who continues to pretend he won the Nov. 3 election. Trump lost by 7 million votes and the same margin in the Electoral College that Trump called a “landslide” four years ago.
Johnson should stop fawning over Trump and focus on the needs of his constituents instead.
The pandemic has sent our economy into recession. Some jobs have come back. But unemployment remains high. Congress needs to act by the end of the year to preserve enhanced unemployment benefits, protect desperate people from evictions, and make sure food assistance continues. Small businesses — those that can’t open or are strictly limited because of public health restrictions — need and deserve government help to survive.
That’s why Manchin, Collins and other sensible centrists are working hard on a relief package that leaders in both houses and parties can hopefully agree to soon. Congress prevented the federal government from shutting down last week, which was a small victory. Now they need to cut a much bigger deal to keep the economy afloat into the new year.
Instead of stirring suspicion over public health advice and scientific drug trials, Johnson should help Manchin, Collins and a bipartisan team dubbed the Problem Solvers in Congress get a meaningful relief bill done.
Are drug companies concerned about profits? Sure. Has the medical community made some mistakes during the pandemic? They probably have. But now is not the time for Johnson to play doctor in the U.S. Senate, second-guessing Dr. Anthony Fauci and other infectious disease experts.
Now is the time for Johnson to show the people of Wisconsin why they elected him. That’s especially true if Johnson wants another term in 2022. The wrath of Wisconsin voters should concern Johnson far more than Trump’s tirades against those he deems disloyal to his unrealistic if not delusional demands.
The $908 billion relief plan is expensive. But failing to keep unemployed people afloat and the economy going could have far worse — and more costly — repercussions, as Trump’s own Federal Reserve chairman and Treasury secretary have stressed. The sticking points for House and Senate leaders are the Democrats’ demands for aid to state and local governments, and the Republicans’ desire to protect businesses from COVID-related lawsuits.
Surely, both concerns can be addressed and balanced in a final bill. Manchin, Collins and others in the U.S. Senate are trying to make that happen. Johnson should, too.