Mark Penn: In coronavirus fight, America needs a 60-day plan to battle virus and save our economy

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It’s time for the Trump administration to take the next steps now to stop the uncertainty gripping America by adopting a responsible 60-day plan for both retarding the coronavirus and saving our economy.

America can go on lockdown for a month or more, but those days need to be used to prepare to emerge and get back to the essentials of daily life. We have to defeat the coronavirus, not let the virus defeat us.

The back-to-work plan must ensure certainty regarding: plans to deal with liquidity to avoid another full-blown financial crisis, programs to encourage retention of employees during the crisis and benefits for those laid off, and confidence in the health care system to ensure that it is safe enough to go back to work.

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Right now we are led by a group of health care experts who have little understanding of the economy, and a group of economists with little understanding of health care. We have turned our country over to the health care experts, but we need a balance. We need our leaders to come together and bridge these disciplines to chart a clear path forward.

We know the worst is yet to come. The statistics show that in most places we are seeing a geometric increase in the spread of the coronavirus that we are working to slow and even reverse.

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We have chosen to move Americans out of the schools and workplaces to spend their days at home with their families. That’s the choice we have made, and we have to stick to that and see if it works. We need to give the health gurus 30 days to ban any meetings, proscribe any activity and reach a peak of coronavirus infections here.

If things go well, we will have slowed the spread of this coronavirus and maybe even rolled it back. Companies in China and South Korea are returning to work already. They have retarded the virus and have saved their core societies.

There will still be coronavirus cases in China and South Korea, but their governments have balanced managing both the economy and the virus. We have to be ready to do the same.

The back-to-work plan has to include:

A clear 60-day timeline that starts people going back to work beginning in 30 days community-by-community, depending upon the statistics showing when coronavirus infections have passed their peak there, and ending with 90 percent or more of the workforce back on the job in 60 days. If we are to prevent this virus from destroying our economy, we must have clear goals and a timeline. That will do more to restore confidence in our financial system than any other measure.

Government-backed furlough programs that allow companies to send employees home for 60 percent of their pay with lowered payroll taxes. Unemployment insurance is important, but it’s a backstop and should not be the primary program. We need to keep people employed at all costs and ensure easy reemployment. Any stimulus should be immediate and be no more than the $875 billion (25 percent of second-quarter gross domestic product) needed to keep our economy neutral to lost GDP in the second quarter.

Federal loan guarantees combined with an aggressive Federal Reserve policy. Unlike the financial crisis in which the banks arguably had culpability for what happened, our airline and cruise ship companies did nothing wrong here. We need to keep them going because these are vital industries and because it is the coronavirus and the government’s failure over the last decade to be prepared for a true pandemic that caused them to be shut down.

Manufacture 5 million suitable masks, develop a working multimillion testing regime, and use the military to secure up to 300,000 ventilators or stripped-down machines that can serve the same purpose. Offices will be cleaned; masks will be made available; and tests will be conducted on a consistent basis to isolate those with the COVID-19 disease caused by the coronavirus. We need to get all of this up and running. We don’t live in a risk-free society – if we did we would have no roads, because over 37,000 people die and over 2.3 million are injured or disabled in traffic accidents in the U.S. every year. Around the world nearly 1.25 million people die in traffic accidents each year. We have to get the risks down to make them acceptable, but we realistically cannot get them down to zero. We need to make things safe enough.

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Obviously, Priority No. 1 is and always will be treating everyone who becomes sick and doing whatever it takes to match our resources to those who need health care. But the priorities also have to include a plan for the fast reemergence of society.

What we are experiencing today is unlike any other crisis such as  a war, a hurricane or an earthquake in that the factories, cities, infrastructure and other facilities are not destroyed – they are standing right there, ready to be reopened without rebuilding.

President Trump has seen rising poll ratings as he has become more actively involved. The Harris Poll showed signs of increased trust and credibility across party lines. Most support the direction he has taken of focusing on public-private partnerships, and endorsing significant direct stimulus.

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This is the President Trump that America has been waiting for – the builder who gets things done. And this is the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that America has been waiting for – the experienced legislator. Gone on both sides is most of the extreme and partisan vitriol that that has characterized the last three years; that was never what America really wanted.

This is also the America we have been waiting for – the America that won two world wars and is ready to mobilize and get behind a united leadership. This is the America that carried out the Manhattan Project, landed on the moon and launched the Internet. This is the America that can be mobilized to get back to work in 60 days with the right plan.

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