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Panic Spending in the Pandemic

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.
AP Photo/Susan Walsh

MADISON — U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-Glenbeulah) says last weekend he witnessed the most rushed vote he has ever seen in his 25-year career in public office.

On Saturday, at midnight, House members received the 110-page bill to address the novel coronavirus pandemic. A mere 25 minutes later, at the direction of Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House voted on the $100 billion legislation.

“When the dust settled, the bill passed 363-40,” Grothman said. Grothman joined the three other Wisconsin House Republicans in voting against the behemoth relief package.

It’s so big, and passed so swiftly, that there is no way House members beyond Pelosi (who negotiated the terms of the deal with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin) knew what the hell was in it. News media outlets couldn’t even put a price on the package until days after it passed.

“I don’t see how any responsible Member of Congress could vote for a bill whose content was withheld from us until, literally, the clock struck midnight,” Grothman said in a press release Tuesday.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) told reporters that he wanted to vote for the bill but could not support a measure that “created so many concerns without time to examine whether some of our language did more harm than good.” He later opposed “technical corrections” to the bill that were anything but “technical.”

“Unfortunately, now that it has passed the House, we will find out what this bill actually does,” he said. “Hopefully, the Senate will take the time to clean up the damage our bill caused and not just rubber-stamp it, so I can vote for the bill that they send back to the House.”

Make no mistake, that was clearly House Leadership’s idea. How else could they pass some of their dearest and most costly social welfare initiatives without the cover of a swift-moving crisis. History tells us, panic is the fastest way to expand government and curtail liberties.

Yes, President Trump, too, is urging the Republican-controlled Senate to pass this massive spending plan. That has much to do with the administration not wanting the appearance of a less than fulsome response to the outbreak.

Among the big-ticket items, the bill demands companies to provide two weeks of paid sick leave, with three months of paid family leave for parents at two-thirds of their salary.

It provides billions more for food assistance, unemployment payments and Medicaid expansion. The bill would strip employment requirements for Medicaid, hard-fought accountability measures liberals have long wanted to excise. Some conservatives rightfully worry the expanded government entitlements will open the door to expanded benefits long after the crisis subsides.

The bill includes provisions supported by Grothman and others who voted against it, not the least of which is free coronavirus testing. 

It does not include tax relief and funding for small businesses hurt by the pandemic. On Tuesday, Gov. Tony Evers ordered restaurants and bars to shut down, and followed the Trump administration’s guidance to ban gatherings of 10 or more people. States across the nation have done the same. 

The sick leave provision continued to be a sticking point for many Republican members of the Senate. 

“Although mandating that all employers must pay for sick leave might sound good, we need to consider the unintended consequences of this legislation,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) said in a statement after the House bill passed.

“I fear that rather than offering a workable solution, the House bill will exacerbate the problem by forcing small businesses to pay wages they cannot afford and ‘helping’ them go further into debt,” Johnson said.

The senator added that existing state unemployment funds would provide a better way to meet employee needs, as well as temporarily changing laws to assist states in making up for lost wages.

“I hope the Senate will approach this with a level head and pass a bill that does more good than harm — or, if it won’t, pass nothing at all,” Johnson said, noting that the president and states already have adequate authority and funding to address the current situation.

Not likely. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said the Senate would pass the coronavirus bill without changes. 

Pelosi, the Democrats, Trump and many Republicans want more — much more. The House bill is on top of the $50 billion in federal funding Trump announced last week, and a previous $8.3 billion bill he signed earlier this month. The White House on Tuesday pushed a stimulus package that could top $1 trillion, including $500 billion in direct payments to Americans or tax cuts and $200 million or more in small business assistance. Airlines, which have taken a huge hit during the travel bans, could see up to $100 billion in relief.

But here’s another number spend-first-think-later politicians are failing to consider: $23.47 trillion. That’s the U.S. debt, as of Tuesday. It’s about to substantially rise with all that panic spending, and that could create an ever bigger financial crisis for the global economy.

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