Apr 15, 2020 - Economy & Business

The White House's committee to reopen America

Illustration of a door made of an American flag opening with light pouring out.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The White House yesterday released the names of more than 200 CEOs and other business figures who it says will advise the administration on reopening America's economy.

The state of play: The group was assembled in the 24 hours before President Trump began reading the names of many of them, phonebook-style, during yesterday afternoon's press conference. Reporters were sent an expanded list later in the evening.

  • I touched base with several participants last night, none of whom yet knew any specifics of what they are being asked to do. Nor do they know working group structures, such as if there will be chairs or if they'll work only with industry peers.
  • "When it comes to something like this, you say 'yes' first and ask questions later," one explained.

Pro Rata myopia: Doug Leone of Sequoia Capital is the only venture capitalist on the list, unless you also include Mark Cuban or former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb (who's now part-time at NEA).

  • Private equity is represented by the Blackstone Group's Stephen Schwarzman and Vista Equity's Robert Smith, and tangentially by Wall Street investment bank CEOs and folks like Elliott Management's Paul Singer and Fidelity's Abigail Johnson.
  • Notably absent from the list are public health officials or major lab testing operators like Quest Diagnostics or LabCorp.
  • Two of the group's three economists, Art Laffer and Steve Moore, have been publicly arguing against paid medical leave and beefed-up unemployment benefits. They're worried it will "discourage work" and thus limit economic growth (seriously, I'm not making that up).

What the White House is saying: "These bipartisan groups of American leaders will work together with the White House to chart the path forward toward a future of unparalleled American prosperity.  The health and wealth of America is the primary goal, and these groups will produce a more independent, self-sufficient, and resilient Nation."

But, but, but: A lot of this reopening talk is getting ahead of the health care realities, Axios' Caitlin Owens reports.

  • The U.S. is still nowhere near where it needs to be on testing, particularly of asymptomatic people, let alone building up a tracking infrastructure.
  • As she puts it: "Given how much it has cost to lock the U.S. down once, it’s unlikely we’ll get another chance to get this right."

The bottom line: It makes sense to begin building a playbook so long as everyone accepts the schedule's fluidity. What to watch next is if this group becomes organized and is given deliverables, or if it's just for show.

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