Though President-Elect Joe Biden has in the past advocated mandatory mask laws to defeat a Covid-19 resurgence, and has also warned he would not hesitate to lock the country down again if scientists recommended it, there is now dwindling favour for such actions after he is inaugurated on 20 January.
And though several governors of West Coast states (California, Washington and Oregon) are pleading for a non-essential travel ban between their states), Biden’s new team of Covid advisors have assured media there are no such plans to ban, or restrict, non-essential travel within or between any states.
Despite such assurances, Reuters reports that Oregon Governor Kate Brown has unilaterally ‘ordered’ that social gatherings be limited to no more than six people, and said: “I am not asking you, I am telling you to stop your social gathering … and your house parties, and to limit your social interactions to six and under, not more than one household.” She has also directed state residents to stay in their homes for all ‘but the most essential activities and services’. Chicago, too, has urged residents to stay at home and defer having visitors for the next 30 days – including Thanksgiving.
With the Thanksgiving holiday on 26 November kicking off the year’s traditionally heavy pre-Christmas travel season, those orders are bound to be sorely tested. Nonetheless, the American Automobile Association has warned that Thanksgiving travel will be down by 10 per cent this year from 2019 and the air travel sector will be hardest hit – down to less than half. That’s the worst performance since the great recession of 2008.
Can conflicting priorities be balanced?
Given the relative modesty of Biden’s win (pollsters had him leading by more than 10 percentage points) and the Democrats’ poor showing in Congress, it appears quite likely that the conflicting priorities of commerce on the one hand, and public health on the other, which bedeviled the Trump administration, may burden the incoming president right from the start.
Instead of a highly anticipated landslide election victory, Democrats lost five seats in the House, bringing their margin of control to the lowest point in decades. Add to that their failure to gain control of the Senate (which at this point is expected to remain in Republican hands even after a run-off election in Georgia in January 2021 which settles two Senate seats), and the prospect of legislative stasis over DC exists for at least the next four years.
Without Senate concurrence, landmark measures like the Green New Deal, Universal Basic Income, oil and fossil fuel bans, and major climate control initiatives (favoured by the burgeoning left wing of the Democrat party) are facing strong headwinds. President Biden will still have access to Executive Actions (which President Trump made famous), but these can be withdrawn by succeeding presidents – as some of Trump’s surely will on the first day of Biden’s tenure. The President-Elect has already signalled rejoining the World Health Organization, as well as the Paris Climate Accords, both of which President Trump dumped.
Even more uncertainty for travel insurers
Of particular interest to international travel insurers would have been the ‘Medicare for All’ initiative pushed hard by Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders when they were challenging Biden for the Democratic party nomination. Passage of such a measure, or even some variation of it – which would have banned private health insurance for services provided under Medicare (for all) and created a single party healthcare system – could have had enormous implications for international travel insurers accustomed to partnering with American insurers for their cost containment leverage vis a vis US hospitals and other healthcare providers.
But with Senators Warren and Sanders (now on the possible list for Cabinet roles) dumping their ‘Medicare for All’ rhetoric in favor of strengthening what remains of the controversial Affordable Care Act, it appears to be business as usual for international travel insurers’ exposure in the always unpredictable, and increasingly expensive, American healthcare marketplace.
As different as Messrs Trump and Biden are in temperament, method, management style and records of achievement, Covid-19 has proven to be a resilient enemy and taming it will take some time yet – assuring the 161 million Americans who voted (the most in history) that getting back to business as usual transcends political posturing.