Written/summarized by Markus Kempin
On October 5th, the Georgetown Bipartisan Coalition hosted its first Roundtable of the year on the topic of Economic Stimulus during the COVID-19 Pandemic. This is an important issue that has sparked numerous debates and consequent positions on both sides of the aisle.
To read about both the Liberal and Conservative perspectives of the issue click here. This article will describe the viewpoints and consequent consensuses that were reached between participants of the roundtable who were affiliated with Republican, Democratic and Independent political views.
As part of the discussion, the unemployment benefits present in both the CARES and HEROES Acts were discussed. Some participants of the discussion group brought up the concept of unemployment benefits being too high, thus disincentivizing the unemployed from seeking employment. Members debated on this topic, bringing up the issue of raising the minimum wage. One member argued that the reason there is such a disincentive in the first place is because minimum wage jobs pay less than the unemployment benefits, and this in itself was evidence that there ought to be an increase of the minimum wage nationally. There were varying responses to this statement. One point discussed was that due to the pandemic, businesses have lost a substantial amount of money. Because of this, raising the minimum wage would cause an additional burden on businesses, possibly causing them to have to lay off even more workers. Another point brought up was that raising the minimum wage could have the long term effect of pressuring certain industries towards automation which again would displace workers and leave them unemployed. The consensus on the question of raising the minimum wage to solve the disincentivization of minimum wage workers was that the next Economic Stimulus bill should refrain from making permanent policies — it should only be a temporary relief package. Yet there was a general agreement that a form of hazard pay could be implemented during the pandemic’s tenure in order to incentivize workers to go back to work and raise wages temporarily.
The debate then steered towards stimulus checks given to individual citizens. The general agreement in preliminary statements was that in order to stimulate the economy, the government must be wise in giving money to the people, who would be able to ensure their basic needs were met and inject money into the economy. There was also a discussion-wide critique in the targeting of the stimulus checks in the first government responses to the pandemic. In other words, stimulus checks were not getting to all the people who needed them the most, and in some cases were being delivered to the very rich and even to the deceased. There was a general consensus that more specific methods of delivery were needed and better accuracy was desired in a next round of stimulus.
Another issue discussed was the limitations Housing Protection policies had on everyday Americans. With one specific example, a member of the roundtable discussed how due to a restriction on evictions, her family could not evict a tenant who was not paying her rent. This tenant was a very well-off individual who could pay the rent but was taking advantage of the system, consequently hurting the income of the member’s family. This ensures a general consensus that while the government should protect tenants from predatory landlords, there should be a more specific policy that will also help landlords achieve fair treatment during the pandemic. In a way everybody agreed that there should be more nuance in laws passed even in an emergency such as the pandemic, as more often than not, nonspecific laws will create a surge in system abuse and eventually cause inequalities and unfair treatment of certain demographics. However, there was also agreement on the sentiment that while things aren’t perfect, America needs help, aid and protection. In other words, just because things are imperfect doesn’t mean nothing should be done.
The most discussed issue was that of testing. There was a general concern for the efficiency of government sponsored testing. With testing being, in some cases, up to $1000 in cost, members of the roundtable argued that this cost discouraged people from getting tested and thus opening the possibility for involuntary contagion of the virus. Furthermore, the fact that certain tests take a substantial amount of time to be processed as well as the general culture of testing being uncomfortable and burdensome, yield the same effects of people not getting tested. This is a problem as many members discussed how increased testing would allow people to feel safer in shopping at local businesses, going to back work and socializing in public spaces. All these are factors that could help the economy be boosted, and mitigate the negative effects of isolation such as increased mental illness, substance abuse and home instability. The road to more testing was contested. On one hand certain members argued for increased government funding through both direct payments to manufacturers as well as subsidizing the cost of tests. This, according to some members, could make testing more widely available. Another group brought up the possibility of testing being left to the private sector, where competition and forces of the free market would incentivize innovation and lower costs, making texting easier to access. Certain roadblocks to this method were brought up such as the numerous FDA hoops a company must go through before being able to approve and produce a testing mechanism. Yet, some members argued that through government pressure this obstacle could be mitigated and relieved. The issue of the culture of testing was also seen to be possibly resolved by the private sector with members advocating for “institutional incentives” such as employees and students being required to be tested in order to come in to work. Overall the general consensus was that the approach to testing of the CARES and HEROES Act was inefficient and either through public sector reform or private sector promotion, change was desirable across the board.
Overall the roundtable concluded on a positive note, reflecting that despite the different approaches in solving the problem there was cooperation and a general open mindedness towards new policies which could alleviate the partisanship currently in the way of progress in America. Everyone agreed that the government should increase their specificity when creating policies and have clear goals when creating them.
If you are interested in sharing your opinion about America’s choice to exit the World Health Organization (WHO) join us on November 17th for another productive and interesting Roundtable discussion!