Although one might hope that a public health emergency like the spread of a new, deadly virus would provide an opportunity for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to clearly and definitively come together, that’s proven to not quite be the case following the emergence of the Coronavirus in the United States. And that partisanship goes back pretty far — reporter Michael Grunwald has now called attention to the fact that back in 2009, when negotiating the specifics of the economic stimulus package that then-President Barack Obama used to jumpstart the economy, still-serving Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins successfully lobbied for the deletion of — wait for it — a full $870 million in pandemic flu prep funding.
Who knows how exactly that kind of money could have been used to help prepare the U.S. for the Coronavirus situation, but more than three-quarters of a billion dollars is no small sum! And according to Grunwald, Collins declared it a “nonstarter” during negotiations. He reports:
‘Collins insisted on deleting the entire $16 billion for school construction, a presidential priority. Lieberman tried to broker some middle ground, but Collins wouldn’t budge… Collins also declared pandemic flu preparations a nonstarter, but Lieberman persuaded her to shift that $870 million to community health clinics rather than kill it outright. “I hope they have that on my list of good deeds when I get to the gates of heaven,” he says.’
— Michael Grunwald (@MikeGrunwald) March 12, 2020
The passage appears in a book that Grunwald wrote called The New New Deal: The Hidden Story of Change in the Obama Era, which was published in 2013 (and is actually temporarily out of stock on Amazon Prime following a burst of interest). Ironically, Trump has been running with the baseless claim that Coronavirus testing delays under his own administration are somehow Barack Obama’s fault, but this Collins reporting fittingly refutes that claim. Along the way, it’s been his own side who’ve made the problems — more recently, Trump’s team even completely eliminated a National Security Council job that was specifically focused on dealing with global pandemic situations. And Trump is still blaming Obama anyway.
Trump just realized that the lack of testing is a catastrophic problem and has decided to solve it by making a bunch of stuff up in a rambling tweet https://t.co/Ng7xYSOPOL
— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) March 13, 2020
During the present Coronavirus situation, Collins has, in her description, worked to “ensure the government keeps the needs of [seniors] in mind as it responds to this public health threat,” and she has touted $4.57 million in federal funds for the Centers for Disease Control in Maine meant to help shore up defenses against the threat of the Coronavirus.
The coronavirus poses a higher fatality risk to seniors. To ensure the government keeps the needs of this population in mind as it responds to this public health threat, @SenBobCasey and I led a group of 12 @SenateAging members in writing to HHS. pic.twitter.com/yeocPRSK8X
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) March 10, 2020
On Thursday, she also joined those insisting that the Senate should cancel its then-planned recess so they could work on developing further Coronavirus response funding — originally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had been planning to leave an almost two-week long recess in place, although it’s since been cancelled.
Due to the need to work on additional efforts to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, the Senate should cancel its recess and remain in session next week.
— Sen. Susan Collins (@SenatorCollins) March 12, 2020
The Coronavirus could easily become an issue weighing on voters as they approach the general elections later this year, and one recent poll showed that a solid majority of Americans actively disapproved of Trump’s response to the Coronavirus crisis. His haphazard, slapdash approach has even helped stoke the anxiety that’s sent the stock market tumbling, almost wiping out 100 percent of the gains in value that had been seen under his administration. On Thursday, stocks crashed in their worst single day since 1987.