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Dear Mr. President and Congress:
Please do not send my wife, Monika, and me checks for $1,000 or more. That money can be better used, and keep reading, I will tell you how.
Our family’s hard-earned life savings have taken a terrible beating in the financial markets, but we do not need the cash in the same way so many other Americans do. I am employed, Monika works part time, and she is a prudent manager of the household finances. We are OK.
In fact, amid all the panic and fear, I remain an optimist. If elected leaders can rise to the occasion and act in a selfless, bipartisan way, Americans can come out of the pandemic stronger than we were when it caught our leaders and nation unprepared.
An emergency stimulus bill of unprecedented size has grown in the space of about one week from $650 billion to as much as $2 trillion. Washington lobbyists are said to be acting like sharks in chummed waters.
Tens of millions of other American households with incomes of $100,000 a year or more also are OK, assuming the heads of household do not hit the unemployment line. Do not send the wealthy or gainfully employed a feel-good windfall check. Use the country’s good faith and credit to spend more smartly. How?
For starters, focus on households without a breadwinner, especially the newly unemployed. They will need more than a one-time check. Increase unemployment benefits and broaden eligibility.
Second, do what you should have been doing all along and aggressively fund the health care, medical, and bioscience communities. Invest in science. Research and development of new vaccines and other antiviral therapies is critical. COVID-19 is not going to be the last pandemic we face.
Use your executive authority to quickly increase the national inventory of medical services and supplies, ranging from coronavirus test kits to ventilators, surgical masks, hand sanitizer, and other over-the-counter disinfectant items. New funding will create jobs, particularly in nursing and first-responder professions. That is really important right now.
A serious, apolitical examination of the nation’s hospital bed capacity also is essential. In 2016 the United States ranked 30th in the world, right next to Turkey, with less than one million hospital beds. We should rank alongside Japan, which is No. 1.
Third, forgive the $1.5 trillion in federal student loan debt. Too many young people have come to adulthood in a nation that has been at war much of their lives. They completed their education amid the Great Recession with few good job opportunities in an economy far less beneficial than their baby boomer parents enjoyed. Many are stuck in low-paying self-employment, the gig economy, or working at small startups unlikely to survive the recession. Wiping out that debt would greatly increase their resilience and would not require any cash outlays by the U.S. Treasury.
I understand the need to send people in need a quick-hit infusion to help them make rent or pay other bills. And I understand the need for prudent loans for businesses, too, to stave off bankruptcies and protect jobs. Let’s avoid hidden corporate handouts in the legislation.
Decisive bipartisan action in Washington, a political relic of the last century, can and should produce more than a momentary cushion to the national economic and psychological shock resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
We need to plan now for the day after the pandemic is controlled in the United States.
Fourth, what happened to the on-again, off-again national conversation about infrastructure investment? It’s time to get real and heed calls to create a national infrastructure bank. Congress should authorize $2 trillion, about 9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP), to be invested in America in the coming three to five years. Such legislation will ultimately create hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs with health care benefits, and go far in calming the national panic as unemployment numbers spike.
Just knowing that is going to happen will help ease insecurity. People would rather go to work than stay home and watch the mail for a stopgap government check.
The president’s 2021 budget submitted to Congress in February, when he and other administration officials were naively dismissing the coronavirus threat as minimal, called for $200 billion in infrastructure investment, but that was then and this is now. Accepted estimates of needed infrastructure spending through 2025 exceed $5 trillion.
Lawmakers must be pushed to go beyond shoring up aging roads and bridges, and incremental fixes to energy, water, and wastewater infrastructure. The country does not need a highway expansion fund, which is exactly what Texas would spend federal dollars on, left to its own devices. Any new highway construction should be tied to a long overdue increase in the gasoline tax, which also will promote reduced driving and carbon emissions.
America needs smart investments that look to the future rather than the past. What’s needed are investments that mitigate climate change and air pollution, enhance renewables, reduce single-user vehicle traffic and promote mass transit, equalize urban access and expand rural access to the internet, and protect energy grids, election systems, and other vulnerable public infrastructure from cyberattack and intrusion.
It’s time for this century’s New Deal. Let’s not wait for the next pandemic to fix the country’s broken health care system. A looming presidential election offers an ideal opportunity to debate a new vision.
Passing comprehensive infrastructure improvement legislation would be the equivalent of the Works Progress Administration created during the Great Depression in the 1930s, a program that initially equaled about 7 percent of GDP. Such investment would put Americans to work for U.S. companies, secure vital infrastructure, increase tax collections nationally and locally, restore consumer confidence, and reduce dependence on government assistance programs.
The WPA was best known for building thousands of miles of roads and streets, bridges, dams, and other public works projects. The program also funded work for hundreds of thousands of artists – actors, writers, painters, poets – and funded work for archaeologists and other scientists that laid the groundwork for much of the modern practices undertaken today. The WPA’s principal goal was to provide stable employment for households without a working head of household.
Washington can invest its way to recovery rather than simply spend to mitigate the impact of the economic crisis. We have increased the national debt by trillions over the long term to give a major tax cut to the nation’s wealthiest individuals and prosperous businesses. Now we are going to spend another $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion or more on short-term relief. Surely we can invest $2 trillion in the coming years in the American people, in research and development, infrastructure, and job creation.