That has to change in this season of shock. The need is for Congress to go far, go big, go fast — and go in new directions as well as one old one. The relief package must be as broad as the real hardships felt and be delivered at the same speed with which the blows fell; the stimulus measures big enough for markets to say, “Wow!”
In the category of “Never tried that before” consider:
“Hold up your hand” grants for any and all applicants, including employees who ask for up to two months’ lost wages and business owners who ask for up to two months’ lost profits. The risk of some fraud is absolute. The risk of even vast amounts of fraud is worth it and can be policed by stiff fines if the pay stubs from January and February do not match the claim when audits follow or if year-to-year comparisons of claims of lost profits show deception. Sure, some will cheat. Most won’t. Direct payments from Uncle Sam to the employees and business owners in question have a precedent of sorts in the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.These losses are different from those on that catastrophic day, but the idea of direct assistance for unforeseen and unforeseeable loss is the same.
Allow unlimited withdrawals from individual retirement accounts at a flat tax of 10 percent, and open that window for all of 2020. Many won’t use the opportunity to withdraw from tax-advantaged accounts, but most will immediately begin to calculate how to maximize their net economic benefit. Some will simply pay off mortgages of homes they intend to retire in, trading one retirement asset for another. The hard-pressed will simply take the money to live on — as they might be forced to do anyway. It will be a salve and an enormous boost to liquidity to know the option exists. If the coming recession is too deep or too enduring, many won’t ever be able to retire, so let Americans judge how best to use their own money.
Schools of every sort, from prekindergarten to post-graduate, have been staggered by the coronavirus outbreak. They don’t know whether they will have returning students in the fall or if refunds are due. Some operate month-to-month on tuition. Every accredited school should get a grant based on total enrollment at the beginning of the current semester or grading period. All schools, whether public or private, as old as Harvard or as brand-new as the latest charter school, must qualify. The cost of countless school closures during this shock would be too disruptive to bear without lasting damage to educational infrastructure. Flood education with money. And stare down the inevitable lawsuits trying to block federal money for institutions with religious affiliations.
Define “impacted sectors” broadly. If airlines, cruise ship lines and Disney get help, so should the roadside attractions and entertainment venues that make America such a great place to live. The same goes for the hundreds, maybe thousands, of not-for profit and for-profit museums, theaters and performance spaces that depend on paying visitors and audiences. Congress should help them out directly. Two months of lost admissions should be simple to calculate, and fraud easy to detect with an audit. Defining the deserving recipients might be difficult, but the goal should be to ensure that those who suffer when America stays home for many weeks can continue their art or craft.
Finally, one traditional form of stimulus cannot be neglected, for it is tied to the nation’s security: defense spending. Navy brass recently argued the need for a bigger “top line” appropriation if shipbuilding goals necessary to a 355-ship fleet were to be met in a reasonable time. Accelerate military equipment acquisition and replacements. When certain of getting work, military contractors will not only keep existing employees on the job but will also expand the workforce — just what a bruised economy needs.
The Senate GOP is lucky to be led by Mitch McConnell (Ky.) and John Thune (S.D.), to include within its ranks expert legislators such as Charles Grassley (Iowa) and relatively new members with vast success in the private sector such as Mitt Romney (Utah) and Rick Scott (Fla.). Time to break the glass and pull the alarm. Time to spend as though you are FDR going to war.