McGovern: Economic Growth at Risk in “Quick Reopening”
Sees Testing as Way to Build Confidence in Reopening
5/5/20 3:53 PM
MAY 5, 2020.....With pressure mounting on governors around the country to begin reopening parts of their economies, U.S. Rep. James McGovern said Tuesday he supports a more cautious approach, worried that acting too quickly could risk a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus.
McGovern, a Worcester Democrat and chairman of the powerful House Rules Committee, said "testing, testing, testing" was going to be the key to successfully relaxing the strict social distancing guidelines in place in Massachusetts and around the country.
And he called House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy "tone deaf" for bucking even leaders in his own party for suggesting members of Congress should be given priority testing so they can return to the Capitol to work.
"Give me a break. Give me a break," McGovern said on a Zoom video conference with hundreds of New England business leaders. "I want to get tested when everyone can get tested."
McGovern was the featured guest Tuesday of the New England Council, which has resorted during the pandemic to moving its popular breakfast speaker series online. The veteran Democratic leader spoke from his home in Worcester wearing a dark Polo shirt.
"Those who are out there trying to urge a quick reopening against the advice of our medical experts are doing so in a way that will jeopardize long-term economic growth," McGovern said.
A couple hundred protesters crowded outside the State House on Monday to voice their frustration with Gov. Charlie Baker's approach to the economy so far, but a new Suffolk University/WGBH/Boston Globe poll found that 85 percent of residents support Baker's decision to keep business closed through May 18.
McGovern did not discuss Massachusetts or Baker specifically, but said that if the economy is to have a strong rebound consumers need to have confidence that they will be safe when they go out shopping or to dine in a restaurant.
"If you reopen the economy and we don't have strict rules in place about how we conduct ourselves safely we could have another surge and we'd have to shut down again and that could be devastating," he said.
Like Congressman Richard Neal, who is helping to write the House's next stimulus bill, McGovern said he's hopeful that an outline will be ready next week and that a vote could happen in two or three weeks.
"My advice? We ought to go big, because this is a big crisis and we ought to respond to it in a way that will address all the challenges this crisis has brought forward," he said.
McGovern said he expects the bill to have more direct aid for state and local governments with "maximum flexibility" in how it gets spent, and would like to see financial support for K-12 education, public and private colleges, law enforcement, tribes, and public health departments.
McGovern also said the federal government needs to make more resources available to states to increase their COVID-19 testing efforts. Some funding for testing was included in the last coronavirus relief package passed by Congress.
"I continue to believe that the key to the safe reopening of our economy is going to depend on testing, testing, testing," McGovern said.
McGovern also said he would support additional relief for regional airports like Worcester's, the Post Office and enhanced food benefits for low-income families to reduce the lines he has seen at food pantries.
"If we can enhance the SNAP benefit then those people can go to the supermarket and buy food rather than wait in line," McGovern said. "We have a little ideological battle going on about that with Republicans right now, but we need to get over it."
McGovern said he wasn't worried right now about borrowing too much money and adding to the national debt.
"This is not a time to be timid," he said. "For some I know this goes against their ideological beliefs to invest big amounts into the economy, but we're going to have to. If not, I think it will take a lot longer to get the country back on its feet."
The Rules Committee chairman also discussed Congress inability to adapt to the crisis from a technical standpoint, showcasing how the Massachusetts Legislature isn't the only body of government that has struggled to figure out how to operate remotely.
McGovern has proposed a voting-by-proxy system that would allow Congress to function during the pandemic without members being in the capital, but Republican leaders have objected.
McGovern said that at the very least committee hearings should be taking place over video conference platforms like Zoom.
"Let's knock some sense into people and see if we can function better," McGovern said.
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