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How Policy Matters

There is an old adage in American politics that people vote for character and values, not policies.

And while character and values may very well be the best way to position a candidate to win an election, policy is how the the consequences of our electoral processes impact our lives.

In new research from Marquette University, Philip Rocco examines the role that state budget shortfalls have had in encouraging premature reopening , and ascribes these decisions to the failure of the CARES Act to provide any meaningful relief to states or local municipalities.

Rocco’s research found that Holding all other variables constant, a shift in states’ revenue share derived from the income tax from 5 to 10 percent is associated with a 43 percent increase in the probability of reopening.”

Writing on the study in the American Prospect, David Dayen concludes:

If economic precarity played a role in reopening, and induced states to reopen early, then the CARES Act could have put states at ease by ensuring fiscal support. Nearly four months later, no such support has arrived, practically every state has reopened, and we have virtually the same level of outbreak we did then, completely wasting the lockdown. The CARES Act structure helped lead to that outcome. “This is, I think, very much the story,” Rocco said.

You can put on a partisan hat, blame it on Trump, blame it on idiots like Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott and Doug Ducey. They certainly all were bad at their jobs. But you can’t discount that the CARES Act’s lack of fiscal aid nudged states to reopen early. We now have some evidence suggesting that to be true. And the effect of that was catastrophic.

The massive surge in COVID-19 cases as a result of premature reopening and the CARES Act’s indifference to state and local relief is but one example of how policy impacts our lives.

Another example is that 5.4 million American families lost health insurance during a pandemic, but because of a recession. Let that sink in.

And yet a third sits behind the backdrop of the protests that have rocked the country over the past two months since George Floyd’s murder. The “systemic” part of systemic racism isn’t just confined to the hearts and minds of Americans, it is has been turned into policy, and written into law – sometimes obviously, but other times more insidiously.

Policy matters. Elections have consequences, but policy changes lives and often continues long after the leaders we voted for retire from public life.  Americans who have committed to learning, listening and personal change as they rethink society in these tumultuous times should question not only what they think individually, but also the consequences of what we do collectively.