Our supposed representatives in Washington just gave their aides and themselves a literal lifeline, and the rest of us, the people, a raised middle finger. CDC guidelines don’t allow the aides arrayed behind Sen. Mitch McConnell when he comes to the floor — the one who carries his statement denying more than $600 in relief to out-of-work American takers, another who revives the deduction for the makers’ three-martini lunches, and the rest of them — to jump the vaccine line. But Monday, magically, the attending physician of Congress, Brian Monahan, made up a provision letting them do just that.
His plan sets aside vaccines for two staffers in each House office (plus four more for each committee chair and ranking member) and five for each Senate office. He didn’t define what makes those 1,200 or so staffers critical to the “continuity of government,” so it’s a loophole broad enough that the aide who suffers from asthma can be bypassed in favor of the one who has the most facetime with the boss. Do Congressional staffers work harder, or are they more exposed, than the workers who clean the offices, serve the Senate bean soup, or don’t work on Capitol Hill at all? No one would inoculate just 10 percent of residents at a nursing home.
It’s ridiculous when you think of it, and obscene. Front line workers aren’t done being inoculated. The Republicans who claimed Obamacare was built around “death panels” are putting themselves and their staffs at the front of the vaccine line. The Democrats who say health care is a universal right are putting themselves first. It’s not like there’s enough to go around. The CDC might have something to say if it weren’t trying without leadership from the top to actually deliver the vaccine. The latest CDC figures show 11,445,175 doses distributed, hardly half of the 20 million that had been promised, and just 2,127,145 administered. If only the president were still alive.
There’s no way to say with certainty that those in most urgent need of vaccination will be shut out under these vague new rules just like there’s no way to say with certainty that Trump wasn’t at least as concerned with helping an unemployed waiter get a check for $2,000 as he was with torching his own party for not being more supportive of his effort to replace the actual slate of electors with one that would declare him victorious. I’ve never been wrong about how much Trump cares for the country.
It was already a stretch to watch virus skeptics like Sens. Lindsey Graham, Marco Rubio, and Joni Ernst, who claimed doctors were exaggerating COVID cases for profit, get their shots under a “continuity of government” exception. The Instagram shot of the 31-year-old Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez getting her shot prompted fellow sister in the Squad Rep. Ilhan Omar to call it “shameful” that young, healthy lawmakers were getting ahead of those who actually work for a living.
Something has to be really bad for Omar to be really right. Congressional staffers work like hired mules but the job is already its own reward. In general, they’re at the head of the line career-wise, plucked out of the many to serve the few. There are too many perks to enumerate but one is that they have the best health care in the world and in addition the attending physician who singled them out for the vaccine is also there for them should they stub a toe or have a hangover.
There was a time not so long ago when members worried over perceptions. When Health Secretary Alex Azar said he would send a thousand tests to Capitol Hill so they could convene more safely, both McConnell and Speaker Nancy Pelosi said no, hesitant to use up tests Trump said anyone could get but that everyone knew hardly anyone could.
Singling out groups to get special treatment based on position and not need just reinforces how the elite have skated through the pandemic versus the working class. The already vast chasm between those who can’t work from home or order their groceries in just grew a mile wider. One reason the list of nearly 350,000 dead doesn’t include many bold-faced names is that they get into hospitals upon first symptoms and get intravenous life-saving drugs.
Now it’s clear that the cure for COVID is going to the privileged the same way that protection against it already has.