How much is enough? It’s a question America is going to have to answer, and soon, lest the need for additional COVID relief packages overwhelm the nation’s ability to pay for them. The national debt, which was close to a single year’s gross domestic product when Donald J. Trump came into office four years ago, has more than doubled, thanks in no small part to efforts to alleviate the impact of the economic lockdown used to prevent the disease from spreading.
As the numbers show, it didn’t work. The states with some of the most severe restrictions on commercial activity, like California and New York, continue to lead the rest of the states in deaths per capita and new infections. It’s almost as if the wearing of masks, the requirements that people stay six feet apart from one another and not venture out into public and the closures of small businesses like restaurants and churches have done almost nothing to keep COVID-19 from spreading.
There are more than a few commentators who’ve been bold enough to suggest that outright. It’s going to take a lot more study of the data to determine if they’re right but what we now know is sufficient to suggest there’s more truth to these presumptions than many of the so-called experts driving the national dialogue are willing to entertain may be the case.
All that is for later. What matters now is whether the latest COVID-19 package is enough or, as President Donald J. Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer believe, if the American people need another round of so-called stimulus checks from Washington to make it though.
They don’t—and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was right when he stopped the bill to do just that from moving forward. If he erred, and it is not clear he did, it was in offering his own version of the bill that, along with the $2000 checks would eliminate a provision of federal telecommunications law that conservatives say allows major platforms like Twitter and Facebook to censor posts with impunity and establish a federal commission to make recommendations to combat voter fraud.
The Democrats could never vote for such a measure—big tech has invested too much in the party’s electoral success for them to sign on—so offering it as an alternative is a crafty way for McConnell to kill the so-called stimulus while making it look like the fault of Schumer and company, not the GOP. Some of his partisan colleagues up for reelection in 2022 may need the political cover his effort provides but, in all honesty, he should have stood his ground and just said “no.”
It’s not that the money would go to families that don’t need it. The economics of the distribution algorithm would allow families making several hundreds of thousands a year declared eligible to receive a check, perhaps for more than $2000 depending on marital status and number of dependents. They don’t need it but—as both Sen. Schumer and Speaker Pelosi have many constituents among the caviar-consuming, designer-ice-cream-eating, Louis Vuitton-carrying crowd who would qualify, it’s little surprise they’re on board. They probably also appreciate the optics associated with seeming like Santa Claus while McConnell comes across as Scrooge.
Except McConnell isn’t, at least not as far as the economics are concerned. A one-time payment of $2000 may help some families clear some debts but it won’t do anything to get the economy going. What we know from the available data is that the open states, most of them red states, are doing better than the mostly blue states where the lockdowns continue.
If the lockdowns aren’t doing much to mitigate the impact of COVID, if the disease is still mostly passed from person to person in home and family settings, and if most all the people who die from it would have shortly died from something else—all things much of the available data show are true—then the best stimulus the economy could have would be for the shuttered states to reopen so everyone could go back to work.
If stopping the checks means more people clamoring for a return to normalcy, then McConnell has done the nation a great service. Larry Summers, the liberal economist who served as Bill Clinton‘s treasury secretary and director of Barack Obama‘s National Economic Council has said: “There is no good economic argument” for universal checks. The economy is roaring back, in fits and starts, with third-quarter 2020 growth at a never-before-seen 33 percent, adjusted on an annualized basis. The checks Trump, Pelosi and Schumer want can’t improve on that. They can put our children and grandchildren deeper into debt than they already are.
McConnell should maintain his hard “no.” As Ronald Reagan said, “The best welfare program is a job” which, expanded out, means the best form of stimulus—and what we need right now—is to let the American people get back to work, not subsidize their continuing to stay home.