The health impacts of the virus will continue to be the top policy priority, followed by the impact to the economy.
As the world continues to respond to the early stages of the virus, there is significant uncertainty on the looming health and economic ramifications that lie ahead. At this point, there are certainly more “unknowns” than “knowns,” including the timing, impact, and solution around the crises. However, we should all expect a significant shift in the policy landscape in the weeks and months ahead as more information and data begin to inform the healthcare providers, first responders, and policymakers.
Policymakers Will Narrow Their Policy Focus: Until more is known, and a response plan is having a widely recognized impact, Coronavirus will consume much of the committee activity and major floor debate in the House and Senate. I would anticipate that lower priority issues that had hope of movement this year may have a tougher battle to get the attention and time of policymakers or may fall off the agenda altogether. Some of the issues that may have been able to cross the finish line prior to the election may have to wait until the lame duck session of Congress. Depending on how severe the pandemic is, Congress is likely to narrow their focus and spend less time on “non-essential” issues until the crises is stabilized.
Congress Will Prioritize Funding in Response to the Virus: Despite the traditional dysfunctional approach to budgeting and funding, Congress will prioritize advancing near-term funding to the President’s desk to prepare and respond to the pandemic in the United States. Congress provided $3.8 billion in emergency spending in response to avian flu in 2005, $2.3 billion in response to avian flu in 2006, and $7.6 billion in response to swine flu. Congress will follow a similar path this year. I would expect both Republicans and Democrats to prioritize emergency funding and have the support of the Administration; its also very possible that there will be multiple phases of funding depending on the scope of the health impacts in the U.S.
Health and the Economy Will Drive Policy: The health impacts of the virus will continue to be the top policy priority, followed by the impact to the economy. This will be the case for both floor activity and committee activity. Of course, Congress will focus on issues beyond those directly tied to the Coronavirus, but health and the economy will quickly rise to the top of the agenda and will be tough to compete with for the foreseeable future. In addition to funding, it is possible we would see some legislative activity on issues to spur economic growth and protect businesses facing losses as a result of the Coronavirus, including tax legislation and other relief packages.
Bipartisanship Will Prevail: There is no question that this crisis comes as Congress is experiencing one of the more partisan eras in its history. Already, the Coronavirus has taken center stage in the 2020 election cycle. While response and implementation may find opposing views between Republicans and Democrats, I do expect that this issue will bring both parties together around legislative solutions given the potential impact to every state and congressional district as well the urgency to get solutions delivered quickly.
Capitol Hill’s reaction to the Coronavirus will depend on both the impact of the pandemic and the length of time before it is stabilized. That being said, Congress will quickly adapt to this new crisis and will readjust their priorities for the year to ensure that funding and policies needed to appropriately respond supersede all other priorities.