With much of the U.S. economy shut down to deal with the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak, Congress is putting together a $1 trillion stimulus package to prevent an economic meltdown, the third major bill to address the coronavirus pandemic. That’s a huge amount of money, but a question looms: How much of it will actually help the struggling economy, and how much of it will just be politically motivated pork?
Congress is moving on the massive stimulus fresh off of passing a multibillion-dollar aid package on Wednesday that provides paid sick and family leave for working Americans, free coronavirus testing, and expanded unemployment insurance.
“Right now, the plan around here is basically just to start shoveling money out of a helicopter, and the most important debate is whether Democrats or Republicans get to shovel the money first,” said Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse.
Sasse isn’t just talking. He’s one of eight Republicans who voted against Wednesday’s package, the second in as many weeks. He’s worried, and so are we, that the emergency “stimulus” will be used as a goody bag for handing out treats to favored interest groups.
The fears of Sasse and at least seven other GOP senators aren’t unfounded. Before passing the second bill Wednesday, Democrats tried to force through a number of costly additions that had little to do with coronavirus. And they wanted to make them permanent. That might sound nice, but forcing small- and medium-sized businesses to foot the bill for expensive paid family leave and increased paid sick leave would bankrupt thousands of small businesses, which often have just a few workers and operate on the slimmest of margins. Fortunately, GOP negotiators got the “permanent” part removed.
Then there were proposed OSHA regulations that would have hit businesses with expensive new mandates that would do little or nothing to mitigate the current virus pandemic. Worse, Dems wanted to use Social Security to fund emergency employment aid — setting a horrible precedent of raiding the already-bankrupt Social Security fund, which has an estimated $34 trillion — that’s trillion, with a “t” — long-term funding deficit. If you’re over 65 or a Social Security recipient you should understand: This raid on Social Security ultimately would make you less financially secure, not more.
Nancy Pelosi & Co. also tried to expand the enhanced family and sick leave to include things that had nothing to do with coronavirus at all, including domestic violence and stalking, to name just two. Those are indeed problems, but not ones to be addressed in an emergency funding bill of this scope and urgency.
Finally, Democrats tried to sneak in a provision that could have essentially gone around the Hyde Amendment, which makes it illegal for the federal government to fund abortions, except to save a mother’s life or in cases of rape or incest. They might not like the law, but it is the law. And none of this, of course, has anything to do with COVID-19, the nasty coronavirus that China sent our way.
Spending money on political pork isn’t “stimulus.” And the last time we looked, pork doesn’t cure coronavirus. We would hope that the Democrats would understand the gravity of the current crisis, and move quickly to address actual needs related to the COVID-19 outbreak. And, yes, reasonable people can conclude that the sudden shutdown of our economy requires action by Congress.
We’re always wary of that word “stimulus,” ever since the Obama administration used a $800 billion package to “stimulate” the economy after the 2008-2009 financial crisis. The current bill is itself open to question. It would spend about half a trillion to give every adult $1,000. How long that’s supposed to last is anyone’s guess, but it won’t stimulate the economy. Meanwhile, Steve Mnuchin’s Treasury Department wants $250 billion for small businesses and $150 billion to help other troubled industries, including airlines. The best stimulus of all? Ending the economic shutdown as soon as possible.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would like a bill by Thursday. Our advice: Better think this one through. If this stimulus does as little as President Obama’s did, voters likely won’t thank you for it later.
— Written by Terry Jones