5 minute read

U.S. Senator Jim Inhofe, or probably someone who works for him, regularly posts on Twitter and Facebook in the pugnacious, low-information style that has characterized Inhofe’s congressional career.

Opinion
George Lang is the opinion writer for Free Press. (Brett Dickerson/Okla City Free Press)

But the senator appears to live in a pre-Internet mindset. When he posted a factually deficient April 13 tweet about the latest COVID-19 stimulus round, his baseless assertions could barely withstand about 30 seconds worth of online digging.

“While we face the greatest public health crisis in over 100 years, last week, Senate Dems decided to once again play partisan games and block the advancement of legislation that would provide more desperately needed #COVID19 relief to our small businesses and their employees,” Inhofe wrote.

The interim stimulus bill Inhofe and fellow Senate Republicans proposed would direct $250 billion toward the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), which provides forgivable loans to small businesses and nonprofits. The problem is that the Republican proposal does not go far enough in ensuring that the funds go where they are needed.

Opinion

From George Lang, our lead opinion columnist

This is a new verse for a three-week-old song, nearly identical to what happened last month during debate over the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

Republicans wanted to push the money out the door quickly and without safeguards to ensure that the money reached workers. The concern among Democrats was that the Republicans’ version could be used by corporations for stock buybacks, much like what happened with the 2017 tax cut, a bald-faced repudiation of trickle-down economics.

Democrats want to ensure there is targeted distribution to acutely affected people and job sectors because there are already examples under the CARES Act of money going to people who already had plenty of it.

For example, artist Judith Pond Kudlow applied for small business relief under the PPP to keep her art business afloat. Her husband is National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow, who helps write U.S. economic policy and has made millions of dollars on Wall Street and working for media companies like CNBC and National Review.

Judith Kudlow’s still life paintings and mixed-media work in textiles are actually pretty cool, but Kudlow’s husband is President Donald Trump’s economic advisor. This is not how PPP is supposed to work. Then again, considering how desperately Inhofe wants to push this new phase of stimulus without any real safeguards in place, maybe that was how it was supposed to work all along.

This is why the Democratic proposal for the next wave of stimulus money is so important.

On the COVID-19 testing and treatment front, the amendments to the bill provide $100 billion for hospitals and community health centers to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for health care workers as well as test kits.

The amendments also provide $150 billion in state and local government relief, a 15 percent increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and a requirement that 50 percent of the new small business loans go through community-based banks and credit unions that, as part of their mission, lend to minority-owned businesses and nonprofits.

There are strategic and political reasons why Democrats are pushing so hard for the amendments. As with the CARES Act, any Reconciliation bills, which consist of economic legislation requiring quick action, must pass with 60 votes in the Senate. Since it cannot pass without buy-in from Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York is pushing these amendments hard.

And this kind of vigilance is absolutely crucial because Inhofe proves almost every day what kind of Oklahoman he cares about. And if you are an average Oklahoman without a stake in a Fortune 500 company, you probably are not on the list.

On April 14, Inhofe tweeted that he was “proud to have @realDonaldTrump leading our country during this time. The administration will require insurers to provide free antibody tests. Americans can feel safer knowing cost isn’t an obstacle for #COVID19 testing in this crisis.”

Let me unpack this before it explodes.

When it comes to inserting qualifiers into his statements to reflect better on his actions, Inhofe and his handlers are practitioners of the dark arts. He wrote that the “administration will require insurers to provide free antibody tests,” but Inhofe is hoping his constituents simply gloss over the word “antibody.”

Both the World Health Organization (for which Trump halted funding on April 14 as I was writing this) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention use polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing, which is a genetic test requiring a nasal swab. It takes between less than an hour to a few days to process. It determines if the disease is present in the patient.

Then there’s the other one. The serology “antibody” test will only tell if a patient had the disease two or more weeks before the test was administered. This can be used to determine if that patient’s plasma can be used to treat a future patient.

Let me be blunt: it will not help the patients being tested. They will either have recovered by the time the test returns, or not.

Inhofe, in all his bluster, accuses Democrats of playing “partisan games,” but the word games Inhofe plays in his social media posts are far more grave.

It is like a fast-food chain calling its salads “fresh-tasting” but not “fresh,” or labeling that amber-tinted high fructose corn syrup in the sticky packets “honey sauce” instead of “honey.”

You know, except he is playing games with his constituents’ health and future.


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