For Senator Sherrod Brown, getting Washington to focus on his central cause, which he calls “the dignity of work,” was hard enough before the current crisis. Now, like everyone else in Congress, the Ohio Democrat is rushing to figure out what exactly the government should do to help the millions of Americans who could lose their jobs in the days and weeks ahead.
Brown has made a career out of being a practical progressive. He strongly defends the role of government in making people’s lives better, even as he has opposed, for example, Medicare for All, which he doesn’t think will improve the health-care system quickly enough.
But when it comes to the COVID-19 outbreak, Brown says, the government has been maddeningly shortsighted. Back in May 2018, he wrote a letter to President Donald Trump warning of the consequences of closing down the White House pandemic office. More recently, he’s directed his criticism at the Senate. Frustrated by how long the upper chamber took to pass an economic-relief package, Brown ripped into Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on the Senate floor earlier this week.
Brown has spent decades warning about the risks of scaling back the government. But the extent of the dysfunction exposed in the past two weeks has shocked even him. “I know our public-health infrastructure is much undermined by conservative budgets, and Trump’s incompetence and wanting to blame everybody else,” he told me Thursday. “But even with that, I would have thought we would have been able to overcome this a little better than we have so far.”