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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

COVID-19 crisis will keep driving the nation's politics, policies

The Republicans might move their main convention events

The Republicans might move their main convention events in Jacksonville, Fla., from an indoor arena to TIAA Bank Field, an open-air stadium. Credit: AP / John Raoux

National politics, like much in American life, becomes a hostage of the pandemic with no end in sight.

Even small arrangements break precedent. Republicans are reportedly planning to move events outdoors for their convention next month in Jacksonville, Florida. The party shifted locale from North Carolina because of coronavirus restrictions there. But the number of new cases, and related deaths reported daily in Florida, continues to spike.

Changing locales could mean avoiding mask rules and allow for better social distancing. Either way, the look of the proceedings will be quite different from the usual convention. About 15,000 people scheduled to crowd into an indoor arena would go instead to the TIAA Bank Field, where the NFL's Jaguars play.

Obviously there are bigger concerns for those who govern. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are under public pressure to agree by next month on another massive federal coronavirus-spending infusion, the exact shape of which is unknown. Its impact on the economy and the huge expansion of federal debt will no doubt be hurriedly debated.

The White House and McConnell (R-Ky.) are discussing financial incentives to push schools to reopen while shielding health care firms and employers from litigation related to the virus. Congress is due to adjourn in three weeks. The Senate has dismissed House Democrats' new, $3 trillion-plus stimulus plan. The Senate plan is priced at $1.3 trillion. The election calendar makes it harder for the parties to come to terms.

"We're obviously out of session this week, but when my members come back next week, we'll start socializing it with them, begin to discuss it with the Democrats and start the legislative process," McConnell said Monday. "I think you can anticipate this coming to a head some time within the next three weeks, beginning next week."

Meanwhile, the nation's economy springs all sorts of leaks. Even before the pandemic, the Agriculture Department turned on the flow of money to farmers hurt by President Donald Trump's tariff battle with China. Now the taxpayer cost is exploding. "It's a big problem for agriculture because it's not sustainable," Anne Schechinger of the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group told Politico.

But for now, American farmers must depend on a kind of socialist system.

David Wessel of the center-to-liberal Brookings Institution said in a web post last week: "Big deficits mean a growing federal debt — the total the government owes — already at its highest point since World War II.

"Extraordinarily low interest rates allow the U.S. to shoulder a heavier debt burden, but the debt is on an unsustainable course and its size may limit the government’s ability or willingness to continue to fight the economic ill effects of the pandemic or future economic downturns."

The conduct of the November election could be affected, not only in terms of turnout and mail-in ballots but because of fiscal strains on counties across the U.S. According to a joint project by USA Today Network and Columbia Journalism Investigations, county election clerks will face extra hassles getting poll workers and counting operations in place.

Clearly battered, Trump ineffectively blames exploding coronavirus case numbers on expanded testing, as if the sometimes-fatal virus isn't actually spreading. He draws controversial attention by disputing his own epidemic experts. Trump's legal efforts to kill Obamacare in the midst of a pandemic, while blaming predecessor Barack Obama for testing failures that arose only last year, suggest a further departure from facts.

The pandemic is likely to remain in charge, in effect, through the end of Trump's current term. Can corruption, foreign affairs, racial tensions and crime compete as the issues of the moment? This global emergency, and how governments respond, will eclipse everything else.