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OpinionColumnistsDan Janison

Biden and Republicans resume pre-pandemic clashes over lives and deaths

People leave flowers on a Boulder, Colo., police

People leave flowers on a Boulder, Colo., police cruiser Tuesday, a day after an officer and nine other people were killed in a mass shooting in the city. Credit: AP / David Zalubowski

Life-and-death policy debates are returning to their usual party-line stasis as the coronavirus's grip on America begins to weaken. Monday's supermarket killings in Boulder, Colorado, and the March 16 spa slayings in the Atlanta area mark the sixth and seventh mass shootings so far this year after a pandemic-induced lull during 2020. So the laws surrounding gun purchases and possession generate public discord for what might as well be the trillionth time.

Positions on the gun-control issue are fixed, and quick federal legal changes are unlikely if Democrats need 60 Senate votes to pass important bills. So mass shootings by civilians with assault-style weapons can be expected to continue, whatever the attackers' motives.

"This is not and should not be a partisan issue — it is an American issue," President Joe Biden said somberly Tuesday at the White House. "We have to act."

Apparently his detractors don't think so, as posturing and slogans remain frozen.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) said Tuesday as the Senate Judiciary Committee convened: "What happens in this committee after every mass shooting is Democrats propose taking away guns from law-abiding citizens because that’s their political objective."

Other long-running standoffs are proving to be immune to the COVID-19 crisis. After four years of a Republican White House, two of them with a GOP-controlled Congress, the contentious law that became known as Obamacare remains.

During two weeks of a Biden-ordered reopening of the Obamacare enrollment due to the pandemic, 200,000 Americans reportedly sought out coverage on the Affordable Care Act's online marketplace. This signals no radical change in American health care. The system looks indefinitely locked in even if Medicaid is made more accessible in some states.

As a Democratic primary candidate, Biden resisted declaring support for an all-government health-insurance system. Circumstance hasn't changed views in either major party, whose representatives generally stick to the same positions they held 10 years ago. Meantime, overwrought posturing over "socialism" is expected to continue.

Nothing essential seems to change in the cross-partisan debate over immigration. For decades, the slogans have boiled down to "Keep ’em out" versus "Don't be cruel."

Problems at the southern border in some ways are back to crisis levels seen years ago. Biden rescinded former President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency to divert Pentagon funds to border wall construction, suspended construction of Trump's wall and vowed to end migrant family separations and instant deportations.

But the impetus to leave Guatemala and other parts of Central America remains strong, and many migrants apparently took Biden’s promises and messaging as a green light for making the journey north. As before, no consensus toward lasting policies has been reached in Congress. It’s another partisan divide with Democrats left scrambling to set up some order that makes sense.

Trade, abortion, taxes, corporate policies, the death penalty and differing regional sensibilities remain flashpoints as always in Washington. Unsurprisingly, the pandemic leaves us with much of the same politics as before.