Issues & Insights

The Stimulus Orgy: Hard Case Makes For A Very Bad Law

It’s one of the key principles this erstwhile student absorbed in law school: Hard cases make bad law.

There may never be a better case of bad law being created in a hard case than the $2 trillion stimulus orgy in which members of both parties have just engaged.

Of course we don’t want workers to suffer, or businesses large or small to go permanently down for the count, because sensationalist media and Chicken Little leaders have radically overreacted.

Oh, wait. You’re still among the Kool-Aid drinkers who don’t think the government, hounded by the media, went too far?

Note the words of one Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist described by CNN as “a longtime adviser to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” as to why otherwise healthy people under 70 wouldn’t be given a coronavirus test even if they exhibit symptoms:

“If you’re in this group, you’re not in trouble. Whether you have flu or Covid-19 or some other respiratory virus, we anticipate you will do well.”

Hmm. Doesn’t exactly sound like a scourge set to slay two to four million Americans, per alarmist projections.

Especially given that John Ioannidis, epidemiologist and co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford (METRICS), has used various extrapolations to get to about 10,000 deaths – a number that would normally have been buried in the “noise of the estimate of deaths of ‘influenza-like illness.’”  Two other Stanford professors placed potential mortality at one-tenth that of flu.

Yet hey, the damage is done. Markets tanked. Local businesses shuttered. Major corporations on the ropes. Unemployment applications hitting records.

So what to do? Bad enough to spread out freshly printed cash like candy even to those who haven’t lost jobs or don’t even have income, creating a temporary economic sugar high with little long-term benefit.

But unemployment benefits above 100% for many workers for four months? People getting more money for not working means that production will be slower to resume – dampening real recovery – and employers seeking to do so will have to pay higher wages. How do you get a $15-an-hour wage worker now making $23, as cited by Senator Lindsey Graham, R-SC, to go back to his old level?

Plus why shouldn’t employers previously doing the right thing by keeping employees on the payroll simply dump them onto the public dole, despite other provisions in the bill incentivizing retention?

How about extending unemployment benefits to independent contractors? It wasn’t 10 minutes ago that gig workers in California were screaming bloody murder at the unintended effects of legislation deeming them employees of enterprises who engaged them. Now they want to be treated the same as actual hired help – a terrible precedent that will further blur a meaningful line.

Then there’s the blatant $17 billion giveaway to Boeing, hidden in “plane sight” as benefiting “businesses critical to maintaining national security.” When last seen, the aerospace giant was expending hordes of cash on stock buybacks, resisting regulators and covering up a range of screwups on its deadly 737 Max. Even given the exigencies of the current crisis, is it fair to ask generations of future taxpayers to pony up to cover years of wasting funds and mismanagement?

Among its nearly 900 pages of fine print, the bill also meddles in credit reporting; provides massive mortgage forbearance – almost a year – for homeowners, contains a series of complicated tax breaks and delays.

It provides for new Medicare payments and in other ways covers for large unreimbursed expenses for hospitals and health care providers. It ups federal cost-sharing in Medicaid and delays previous reforms – precisely the opposite direction the Trump administration was rightly going with this rapidly growing albatross.

And speaking of albatrosses, the stimulus bill shovels an additional $1 billion to perennially failing Amtrak, and for good measure, tosses a puzzling $25 million sop to the Kennedy Center.

The whole affair reminds one of the old saw about the son who murdered both of his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court because he was an orphan. Uncle Sam, having already slain the economy and much of our freedoms based on bad information and flawed decision-making, is using our suffering as an excuse to get away with compounding the crime with an orgy of bad law.

And what makes the law so bad is not just the many horrific individual provisions. Rather, Big Government is once again using a hard case – a crisis of its own creation (the 2008 mortgage meltdown can also be laid directly at the feds’ feet) – to expand its size, reach and complexity. It’s burrowing in place spending, programs and principles that further cement its role as business, income and health insurer of first, not last, resort and its authority to tell us how to run our lives.

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Bob Maistros

Bob Maistros, a messaging and communications strategist and crisis specialist, is of counsel with Strategic Action Public Affairs, and was chief writer for the Reagan-Bush ’84 campaign, three U.S. Senators, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at bob@rpmexecutive.com.

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