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Editorial Roundup: US

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad:

April 28

The Los Angles Times on former Vice President Joe Biden's presidential running mate decision:

With the Democratic presidential nomination within his grasp, former Vice President Joe Biden must make a decision that presidential candidates always insist that they take seriously but often don’t: the selection of a running mate. Biden says he will soon announce members of a committee to screen potential candidates for that role.

We already know one thing about Biden’s choice: It will be a woman. That commitment still leaves Biden with an array of qualified potential partners, but, like every presidential candidate, he will be exhorted to consider attributes other than the two that should be uppermost in his mind: whether his pick would be qualified to assume the presidency at a moment’s notice and whether in that event she would continue the policies he championed.

Some will urge Biden to make a choice that would represent another olive branch to his defeated rival Bernie Sanders and Sanders’ passionate, often young, supporters. Others will advocate that he choose a running mate who would be likely to deliver voters in her home state, especially if it’s one that President Trump carried or ran well in four years ago.

Biden will also be pressed to seek ethnic or racial balance, for example by naming an African American running mate who could energize a loyal Democratic constituency. One such potential choice, former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams, has disdained false modesty by suggesting that she would be an “excellent running mate” for the former vice president.

Biden himself has floated an additional factor: skills or experience that would complement his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses. According to Biden, that approach was recommended to him by former President Obama.

We believe, however, that Biden’s primary criteria for a running mate should be ability and compatibility.

We would urge any prospective presidential nominee to set these priorities, but it’s especially important for Biden to do so. Although in good health, if elected he would be 78 when he was inaugurated for what very likely would be a single term. (Biden has not committed to serve only four years, yet he reportedly indicated to aides that he probably wouldn’t seek reelection.) If he indeed served only one term, his vice president would be a favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2024.

But Biden’s age isn’t the only reason for him to choose carefully. When presidential candidates have allowed other criteria to drive the selection of a running mate, the results often have been unfortunate, even disastrous. It was supposed to be a “game changer” when Republican presidential nominee John McCain, a seasoned U.S. senator and foreign policy expert, chose Alaska’s then-Gov. Sarah Palin as his running mate in 2008. It soon emerged that Palin was not only woefully unsuited for national office, but practiced a style of pandering populist politics that was alien to McCain’s appreciation of the responsibilities of government.

The Palin fiasco is a reminder of what happens when novelty or “excitement” becomes the primary factor in selecting a running mate. But there are less dramatic examples of mismatches, including then-Vice President Walter Mondale’s selection of the obscure Rep. Geraldine Ferraro in 1984 — an early exercise in gender balance that saddled the campaign with unwelcome controversy — or George H.W. Bush’s selection four years later of the youthful (and more conservative) Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, who proved himself in office to be “no Jack Kennedy.”

Nor is it clear that an ideologically or geographically “balanced ticket” is a recipe for victory. Some believe that John F. Kennedy secured a crucial victory in Texas and other Southern states in 1960 by asking Sen. Lyndon B. Johnson to be his running mate. (Johnson later said Kennedy himself held that view.) But Kennedy’s victory in those states also reflected the lingering dominance of the Democratic Party in that region. Among the conflicting accounts of why Ronald Reagan chose George H.W. Bush, a defeated opponent, as his running mate in 1980 is that the more moderate Bush provided ideological balance for the conservative Reagan. But Reagan’s overwhelming victory over unpopular incumbent Jimmy Carter undermines the notion that Reagan’s choice of a running mate made much difference.

Indeed, research suggests that, whether they are chosen because of gender, geography or ideology, vice presidential candidates probably don’t exert significant influence over most voters’ choice for president, though voters may lose confidence in a presidential candidate who chooses a running mate perceived as incompetent. Even the popular notion that vice presidential candidates will carry their home states for the ticket has been questioned, although a recent study suggests there might be such an advantage.

We’re not suggesting that Biden should totally ignore other factors in making his selection, including personal chemistry, party unity and the possibility that a particular candidate might make the difference in the outcome in a particular state or region. But these should be secondary considerations. Fortunately, the Democratic Party includes many officeholders with the right amounts of experience and demonstrated expertise, including some of Biden’s primary campaign rivals, who potentially would be productive partners for a President Biden.

When he announced that he would ask Biden to be his running mate, Obama described the longtime Delaware senator as “a statesman with sound judgment who doesn’t have to hide behind bluster to keep America strong.” Substitute “stateswoman” for “statesman” and that is the job description that should guide Biden in making this momentous decision.

Online: https://www.latimes.com/

April 27

The Washington Post on helping nursing homes during the coronavirus pandemic:

More than a fifth of the 55,000 known covid-19 deaths in the United States have occurred at nursing homes and other elder-care facilities. Federal and state governments have largely turned a blind eye, often making no effort to test residents or staffs and leaving relatives, surrounding communities and the public in the dark.

In at least a half-dozen states — most notably Maryland, Virginia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Texas and Louisiana — officials have refused to make public the names of facilities wracked by the virus, even as residents and employees there are dying. The states’ nominal reason for their secrecy, privacy protections for institutions, is akin to refusing to identify an airline whose plane has crashed.

With few exceptions, states and the federal government have made little or no effort to verify the disease’s death toll at nursing homes and similar facilities, conservatively estimated at 11,000 in a tally by the Associated Press.

The effects of government negligence and lack of transparency are incalculable but profound: families uncertain whether to place their elderly loved ones in a nursing home or remove them from one. Hospitals blithely transferring fragile patients to homes overwhelmed by unannounced outbreaks of the pandemic. Homes with no means to provide testing left to guess at a diagnosis when residents or staff succumb.

A survey by The Post found that almost a tenth of the nation’s 15,000 nursing homes have publicly reported that residents or staff have tested positive for the virus. But the available data are staggeringly incomplete — as in New York, by far the country’s hardest-hit state, where officials have released the names only of homes where at least five people have died.

Many nursing homes have made good-faith efforts to keep relatives informed when outbreaks occur; others have not or simply don’t know. The federal government recently mandated that residents and relatives — but not the public — be alerted when an individual in a home has tested positive. Yet the order is all but meaningless without testing, to which an industry group estimates that just one-third of facilities have access. Just one governor, Jim Justice (R) of West Virginia, has ordered universal testing at every nursing home in the state.

Staffing shortages at elder-care facilities, widespread for years before the pandemic, have probably accelerated the spread of infection as many employees hold down simultaneous jobs at two or more homes, thereby spreading it as they shuttle from one to another. And while some states, including Maryland, have ordered nursing home employees to wear personal protective equipment when they interact with residents, some facilities cannot find enough masks, gloves and gowns to comply.

The government’s abdication has left most nursing homes flying blind in a pandemic that has made them uniquely vulnerable. The absence of transparency and data put not only the facilities but also the public in the crosshairs of the coronavirus.

Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/

April 27

The Sun Sentinel on President Donald Trump threatening to block the Postal Service from receiving stimulus money:

The Postal Service, our oldest civilian institution, is in grave danger from the new coronavirus and President Trump sounds eager to strike the mortal blow.

On Friday, the president threatened to block $10 billion in borrowing authority authorized by Congress unless the Service raises its package mailing prices by “approximately four times.”

Trump’s target is Jeff Bezos, who owns the Washington Post and the e-commerce giant Amazon. But the collateral damage would be vast.

Postal package rates would be far higher than those of FedEx or UPS, which could then raise theirs — to everybody.

The Postal Service would very likely go under, at a time when we need it more than ever to handle voting by mail in the face of the coronavirus.

That of course, would serve another of Trump’s irrational vendettas. He has it in his head that mail voting favors Democrats, even though people who know anything about it say it doesn’t. Wisconsin’s recent vote was a rare exception. In Florida, Republicans turned out far more mail-in ballots than Democrats in 2016 and 2018.

The Postal Service was already endangered before the new coronavirus came along to depress mailings and revenue. It has been in the red for 13 years and was struggling under questionable burdens that Congress imposed.

Now, revenue is down by nearly a third from this time last year, and the USPS is warning that it could run out of cash by September without assistance from Congress.

The administration cannot back up Trump’s oft-repeated claim that postal rates subsidize Amazon and other mass mailers. The Post’s fact-checkers ruled that false, citing uncontested USPS findings that package rates cover from 138 to 189 percent of the delivery costs, as allowed by law. Nevertheless, the Treasury Department argues rates don’t fully cover “institutional costs” that ought to be attributed to package delivery.

The Treasury’s defense means the USPS couldn’t raise rates as Trump demands without breaking the law.

Despite a myriad of competing ways to move merchandise and information, the Postal Service is as indispensable as ever and in one sense more so. There is no other institution, commercial or private, with the capacity to securely handle voting by mail, the contagion-free alternative to voting in person that is in great and growing demand.

It is intolerable that there should be anything partisan, or even in question, about preserving a viable Postal Service. Yet Trump threatened to veto the $2.2 trillion emergency appropriation if Congress included money to keep the U.S. mail coming. The $10 billion in borrowing authority for USPS was the best that could be had.

The president either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that the Postal Service doesn’t control its own pricing.

The 1970 law that made the service an independent government corporation took away Congress’s power to set mailing rates and lodged it in a new agency, the five-member Postal Regulatory Commission. The service itself has only limited flexibility.

The regulatory commission consists of five presidential appointees who have a complicated law to apply.

Congress in 2006 imposed an unparalleled burden by requiring the Postal Service to pre-fund its health benefits 75 years into the future for the sake of employees not yet born.

For most of our history, the Post Office was a Cabinet Department, local postmasters were appointed or fired depending on who won the White House, and Congress set postal rates. The 1970 law was intended to get the politics out.

In February, the House voted 309 to 106 to scrap the pre-funding requirement, but the bill has gone into the Senate’s dead-letter box. Other proposed legislation would ease the health care burden by requiring retirees to enroll in Medicare Part B.

In December, the Postal Regulatory Commission proposed rules that would give the Postal Service more flexibility in raising its charges. The docket is flooded with objections and delays.

It may be in the back of some minds — one hopes not — that getting rid of the Postal Service would stimulate political contributions from PACs and individuals associated with its competitors, including FedEx and UPS, and eliminate unions that favor Democrats.

Whatever their merits, private delivery services are not a plausible replacement for the Postal Service. They are not obliged to serve every address in the nation, however remote or distant from the internet. Neither are they set up to handle the vast volumes of first-class mail, advertisements, catalogs and periodicals that are the Postal Service’s responsibilities. Millions of people depend on the Postal Service for their Social Security checks, their medications and other necessities.

Imagine, for a moment, that the Postal Service goes bankrupt and collapses. How much might it cost to mail a bill payment, a birthday card or an absentee ballot in the face of the pandemic? The cheapest FedEx envelope rate is $8.50.

And how much more would it strain the economy to absorb another 630,000 people out of work?

Five states now vote all or almost all by mail. Other states need that capability given the uncertainty as to when it will be safe again to vote in person.

Supervisors of election in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade Counties intend, commendably, to send absentee ballot applications and postpaid return envelopes to all voters. They need and deserve supplemental appropriations from their county governments.

Congress, meanwhile, should rescue the Postal Service with the same zeal in which it voted bailout money to America’s most profitable corporations, and Trump should get, or be pushed, out of the way.

Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott, what are you going to do to save the Postal Service from the president’s newest scheme?

Online: https://www.sun-sentinel.com/

April 27

The New York Times on providing funding for struggling states and local governments:

As negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package heat up, a key point of contention — perhaps the key point — is whether Congress will provide meaningful aid to struggling state and local governments.

Boiling down the politics: Democratic lawmakers favor the move. Many Republicans, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, do not. Some in the Trump administration have suggested that withholding aid is a great way to pressure states to reopen sooner rather than later. This is both cynical and destructive. Denying states a financial lifeline, even as Washington is showering trillions of dollars on the private sector, will only exacerbate the economic devastation that Congress is trying to mitigate.

The situation is dire. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that states could suffer a collective shortfall of $500 billion through the 2022 fiscal year. Tapping rainy-day funds and using the targeted federal aid already appropriated would still leave a $360 billion gap, the center warns, “not including the substantial new costs they face to combat the Covid-19 virus.” Local, state and territorial governments face their own funding crunches. As tax revenues plunge, costs are expected to skyrocket as layoffs and pay cuts drive more people to apply for food stamps, Medicaid and other public assistance.

The nation’s governors have petitioned Congress for $500 billion in direct funding to help address lost revenue. Without this aid, the states — which, unlike the federal government, cannot run budget deficits — will have to start slashing costs. Read: services. Read also: jobs. Lots of public-sector jobs.

As a result of the financial crisis of 2008, state and local governments shed an estimated 585,000 jobs. This time around, the pain is expected to be even more pronounced. Teachers, law enforcement officers, bus drivers and legions of others stand to get hit. In addition, the nation’s nonprofit sector, which accounts for around 10 percent of private employment, relies heavily on government grants and contracts.

With overall unemployment anticipated to crack 16 percent this month, it is in the interest of all Americans for Congress to stabilize these pillars of the economy.

Despite this, some Republicans are presenting the issue as a partisan clash, even a question of morality. Chief among them is Mr. McConnell. “There’s not going to be any desire on the Republican side to bail out state pensions by borrowing money from future generations,” Mr. McConnell told the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt in an interview last week, suggesting that the problem stemmed from fiscal mismanagement on the part of Democratic-led states such as New York, California and Illinois. “We’ll certainly insist that anything we’d borrow to send down to the states is not spent on solving problems that they created for themselves over the years with their pension programs.”

Mr. McConnell suggested that, rather than receiving additional aid, states should be allowed to declare bankruptcy. His office later issued a news release touting Mr. McConnell’s opposition to “Blue State Bailouts.”

Mr. Trump parroted Mr. McConnell’s argument in a Monday tweet, dialing up the partisan rhetoric, as is his way: “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help? I am open to discussing anything, but just asking?”

The idea of thrifty, self-sufficient red states propping up blue states has long been a Republican canard. In 2017, Paul Ryan, who was the House speaker, trotted out this line while pushing to repeal the exemption for state and local taxes as part of the tax package. (Ultimately, the deduction was merely capped.) “States that got their act together are paying for states that didn’t,” he claimed, and promised that his desired repeal would put an end to the rest of the country “propping up profligate, big-government states.”

This claim was wrong then, and it is wrong now. To the contrary, a 2017 Associated Press analysis noted that “High-tax, traditionally Democratic states (blue), subsidize low-tax, traditionally Republican states (red) — in a big way.”

For the past few years, the Rockefeller Institute of Government has been crunching the numbers on what Mr. Ryan might have called “maker” and “taker” states — that is, which states pay more into federal coffers than they receive in federal spending, and vice versa. This year’s report found that, over four years, New York businesses and residents paid in $116.2 billion more than the state received back. New York, in fact, has the “least favorable balance of payments of any state in the nation.”

Of the 20 states with the most favorable balance of payments, a handful, at most, are blue. For every dollar in federal taxes it pays, New York receives 91 cents in return, behind only Connecticut (which receives 84 cents for each dollar), New Jersey and Massachusetts (which both receive 90 cents per dollar). Mr. McConnell’s home state, Kentucky, by contrast, rakes in $2.41 for every tax dollar it sends Washington.

In other words, Mr. McConnell’s state is effectively subsidized by blue states like New York and New Jersey. Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York reminded Mr. McConnell of this during his Thursday news briefing. “Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here?” the governor demanded. “It’s your state that is living on the money that we generate.”

Mr. McConnell took heat even from some members of his own party. “The last thing we need in the middle of an economic crisis is to have states all filing bankruptcy all across America and not able to provide services to people who desperately need them,” Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, the current chairman of the National Governors Association, told Politico in an interview on Thursday.

Representative Peter King, a New York Republican, took particular exception to Mr. McConnell’s suggestion that states were looking for “free money.” “To say that it is ‘free money’ to provide funds for cops, firefighters and health care workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate,” Mr. King tweeted.

The Treasury Department last week also issued rules requiring states to use funding from the previous relief package to cover only “necessary expenditures due to the public health emergency” and not to offset declining revenues. This is a step in exactly the wrong direction.

Allowing state budgets to collapse is shortsighted and counterproductive. Democratic lawmakers need to hold the line in this round of relief negotiations.

Online: https://www.nytimes.com/

April 27

The Wall Street Journal on a Supreme Court ruling that upheld payments to health insurers who loss money by offering cheap plans through the Affordable Care Act:

The Affordable Care Act has cost taxpayers a bundle, and now the Supreme Court says they are on the hook for billions of dollars in additional payments to insurers even though Congress never appropriated the money. The ruling will be even more expensive if it encourages more lawsuit demands for unappropriated funds from other statutes.

That’s the meaning of Monday’s 8-1 ruling upholding payments to health insurers for so-called risk corridors in ObamaCare’s first three years (Maine Community Health Options v. U.S.). Congress created the scheme to lure insurers to offer policies in the insurance exchanges, promising to make up for losses resulting from mispricing in the early going. Democrats claimed the program would pay for itself because the payments would come from other insurers that made money.

That would be no, Speaker Pelosi. Many insurers tried to attract customers by offering cheap plans that lost money. Over three years the risk-corridor plan was $12 billion in the hole. Meanwhile, Republicans won the House in 2010 and refused to appropriate the money to make up for those insurance losses.

They called it a “bailout” for insurance companies, and attached language in spending bills that barred the Obama Administration from making risk-corridor payments despite language in ObamaCare saying the Secretary of HHS “shall pay” to insurers that lost money.

The insurers sued, and now comes the Supreme Court to say they are owed the money because Congress created an “implied” right of action in ObamaCare. This is a slippery subject because the Court has recently been reluctant to read implied rights of action into law unless Congress has been explicit. Justice Samuel Alito makes this good point in his lonely dissent, and you can bet other potential litigants will be scouring other laws for “shall pay” language to sue over.

Congress writes laws all the time that authorize payments for this or that purpose only to decide later to appropriate less money or none at all in any given year. The appropriation power controls in the end, and the Constitution says no money shall be spent unless Congress appropriates it. The executive has no power to spend money without Congressional approval, as Democrats have been lecturing us about President Trump’s “emergency” spending for the Mexico border wall.

Let’s hope the Court is reading this as a narrow one-time exception to its implied-right wariness. As Chief Justice John Roberts well knows, ObamaCare seems to invite legal exceptions and invented jurisprudence. Justice Alito strikes us as having the stronger legal argument, but the majority doesn’t agree and now taxpayers will pay for another ObamaCare provision that had to pass before we found out what was really in it.

Online: https://www.wsj.com/

April 27

The London Evening Standard on Prime Minister Boris Johnson recovering from COVID-19:

Welcome back, Prime Minister. You’re needed, and this morning, speaking outside Downing Street, you showed why.

Only a Prime Minister has the authority to lead us out of lockdown: to set the pace, tell us about the choices, and find a path between optimism and cold reality. Boris Johnson did very well: looking revived from the last time we saw him, in the message he recorded shortly after coming out of intensive care. But for anyone hoping that normal life will return soon, his message was bleak.

“I share your impatience", he said. If lockdown goes on long, “there will be no economy to speak of”. But he also set out the reasons why it can’t be lifted now.

Infection rates might spike. That would mean restrictions which would crash the economy still further. All the “effort and sacrifice” so far would be ruined In this, he showed the necessary caution of a wartime leader. But he also revealed how much is missing.

He couldn’t tell us what will happen next because he does not know. He has returned to find the Government doesn’t have a plan to get out of this. It needs to find one.

This morning he could just about get away with implying that impatience about the lockdown is the same as impatience to lift it now. But it isn’t. No one sane is calling for the lockdown to stop now.

Everyone sees that it will need to go on, and adapt — including voters, who, as polls show, give the Government their strong support.

WAY FORWARD

What people are impatient about is the absence of a way forward from the Government in his absence. We don’t know how decisions have been made and we’ve heard different language from different ministers.

Without a leader the Government has been leaderless, and now he is back, that needs to change.

To his credit, Mr Johnson accepted, by implication, that the way this has been managed while he’s been away wasn’t good enough. He promised the “maximum possible transparency”, and that he would work with opposition leaders as well.

He’ll have to show he means it about changing the way things are done. He also promised we would hear a lot more about plans for easing lockdown in the next few days. He’ll have to make that promise real, too.

On his first morning back, his cupboard was bare. It won’t be possible for much longer for him to say so little about what will come next.

Look, for instance, at the calls from experienced voices in his own party in our comment section today: from the former deputy prime minister Michael Heseltine and former Cabinet minister David Gauke.

They know how government works, and they aren’t trying to risk public safety. But they know, too, that the way to get through this is to be clear about the next steps.

That’s why today the Evening Standard has begun to look ahead, to report on London After Lockdown. The safest way to end it as soon as possible is to discuss the consequences.

One way to do that is to look abroad.

This morning the Prime Minister spoke of Britain’s “conflict” with coronavirus but it is of course also the world’s fight, and we can see what is happening in other countries.

Not all are doing better: but even in France, where testing rates have also been too low and death rates high, the President has set out a plan to start reopening schools.

In China today, high schools return. In Britain, by contrast, this morning, a junior education minister said there was “no plan”. But if it is too soon for a date, then at least we need to know what the process will be when the right time comes.

Will primary school classes return first? Will schools teach smaller classes, for a shorter time each week? What will be done to help pupils facing exams next year, who aren’t studying the courses for them now?

The Prime Minister can’t settle questions like these himself.

His job is to give the Government the leadership that can make it happen. He needs to balance hope and resolve. He talked this morning of the first and second phases of the fight.

He did not quote Winston Churchill, but he surely expected others to do so for him. “Now is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

Online: https://www.standard.co.uk/

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