Opinion by Steve Scalise and Tim Phillips
Washington Post – Feb. 19, 2021 at 3:57 p.m. EST
Steve Scalise, a Republican, represents Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District and is minority whip of the U.S. House. Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity, a grass-roots advocacy group.
President Biden says the risk of coronavirus relief legislation is not in going too big but in going too small. This is a false choice, and we shouldn’t let platitudes about “going big” mask the need for smart and effective policy.
Congress has already gone “big” — so big that more than $1 trillion of previously enacted assistance remains unspent. Simply doing more of the same won’t solve the country’s problems.
We need to get pandemic relief right. But instead of working with lawmakers of both parties on legislation that could more effectively overcome the pandemic and help our country recover, the president is mustering support for a $1.9 trillion package loaded with a partisan wish list of items that have nothing to do with the pandemic.
We’ve heard firsthand from friends and family who want to get vaccinated but can’t. We’ve heard from neighbors who simply want to get back to normal and get back to work. What the country needs is focus. That involves an approach to covid-19 relief spending that is timely, temporary and targeted to those hit hardest by the pandemic.
Congress has already enacted roughly $3.7 trillion to develop and distribute vaccines, save small businesses and fund schools. Scientists developed multiple safe and effective vaccines, and distribution recently began reaching more than 1 million Americans a day. Just the first round of the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) helped keep more than 51 million workers employed last year.
As of Thursday, the more than $1 trillion of that assistance that remains unspent or is still in the process of being disbursed includes $183 billion for another round of the PPP, $199 billion for health care, $136 billion for expanded unemployment insurance and $46 billion for direct stimulus payments.
We have no business borrowing an additional $1.9 trillion from our children’s future when all of that remains to be spent to help our country reopen safely.
No doubt, people are hurting — especially in the restaurant and hospitality industry. We agree that targeted relief is appropriate for those individuals, families and businesses hit the hardest. But we shouldn’t be blind to the fact that Americans are also adapting and innovating. Our economy is significantly stronger than many had predicted last year that it would be.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office projected last week that the U.S. economy will grow 3.7 percent this year without any additional stimulus. The economic downturn last year “was not as severe as expected,” the CBO said, and “the first stage of the recovery took place sooner and was stronger than expected.” As more and more Americans are vaccinated, lockdowns will end, businesses will reopen and jobs will return.
Even state governments are faring better than anticipated. Collectively, they have already received hundreds of billions from the federal government over the past year. “From the start of the pandemic in March through October, tax revenues in 38 states were down 5 percent or less from the same period the year before,” the New York Times reported in December, drawing on data from the Urban Institute. Some states, including California and Minnesota, experienced budget surpluses. Another bailout for these states to cover fiscal irresponsibility that predated the pandemic doesn’t make sense — yet that’s what the president is calling for.
There are people who desperately need help, but the country is not in a free-fall. The president’s relief package isn’t just focused on the wrong things — it also contains unrelated provisions that would undermine the recovery already in progress.
Take the proposed federal $15-an-hour minimum wage. The CBO recently estimated that this heavy-handed wage hike could cost up to 2.7 million American jobs. Why would we double the minimum wage at a time when thousands of businesses are struggling to make payroll and millions of Americans are looking for jobs? For small businesses such as restaurants that have survived a year of incredibly tough conditions, a federal requirement to raise wages up to 600 percent for employees who work off tips would be a death blow.
We stand ready to work with Biden and any member of Congress to defeat the virus and accelerate economic recovery. We need to increase vaccine production and distribution so people have confidence they can safely get back to work and get the economy going again. We should not spend needlessly on things that don’t directly affect covid.
The president’s $1.9 trillion relief package isn’t the way to get there. It fails to accomplish the key goals of defeating the virus and recovering stronger. It would pile up debt and impose counterproductive policies that would hurt the people who need help.
We shouldn’t confuse big spending with smart or effective policy. Americans deserve better.