Congress has little choice but to hike the federal deficit in the wake of the COVID-19 virus, U.S. Rep. Ron Kind said.
Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, spoke to the Tomah Journal Monday as Congressional negotiators were hammering out a massive economic stimulus bill estimated to cost $2.2 trillion. Congressional negotiators agreed to a bill early Wednesday, and the House is expected to vote on the bill Thursday.
“We’ve been working at an unprecedented rate of speed in Washington,” Kind said. “The third bill is taking a little more time because it’s much bigger and we’re talking about subsidies to big business and big industries.”
President Donald Trump has already signed a pair of COVID-19 bills. One provides $8.3 billion in emergency health-care response, and the second, which carries an undetermined price tag, expands paid sick leave and boosts food assistance and unemployment benefits.
The cost of those bills, however, dwarfs the price tag of a third bill designed to rescue businesses impacted by the sudden shutdown of the economy. Kind voted for the first two bills and is prepared to vote in favor of the third.
“In comparison, when you have a $23 trillion annual economy, $2 trillion is roughly 10 percent of total economic activity,” Kind said. “There are some economists who think even that is too small. This is going to be a moving evolution given the response that’s needed.”
Democrats blocked a Senate bill Sunday over a disagreement on how $500 billion in loans and guarantees to distressed businesses would be allocated. Democrats contend that the language gives too much power to the treasury secretary and doesn’t ensure that most of the benefits would go to regular employees.
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Kind said he shared those concerns and that Congress needs “to learn the lessons of 2008,” when it rescued the banking industry. He wants language that prohibits executive bonuses and stock buybacks.
“It’s reasonable to have some guard rails and accountability,” he said.
He said the recent flurry of legislation will likely contain flaws, no matter how carefully the bills are written.
“This is a moving target, and we’re operating under incredible speed right now, and those are conditions for mistakes,” Kind said. “If anyone thinks these are going to be perfect packages ... I think that’s unrealistic.”
He said the crisis has elevated the level of bi-partisanship on Capitol Hill.
“We were listening to state and local officials and what they needed,” he said. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to continue to operate like that. We’ve never been more in need of strong federal, state and local partnerships than right now. We’re going to need to continue this mentality that we’re all in this together.”
Kind cancelled several recent town halls and has been getting most of his constituent feedback through emails and video conferencing.
He said there is a considerable amount of anxiety due to the uncertain health and economic impacts of COVID-19. He urged people to be vigilant, practice prudent health guidelines and get outside, if possible.
“We’re blessed living in a beautiful part of the country where you can still go outside and do some outdoor recreating ... as long as you practice proper social distancing,” he said. “There’s still a chance for us to stay healthy in our own bodies and minds as we deal with the uncertainty that’s in front of us right now.”
Tomah Journal editor Steve Rundio can be reached at email@example.com.
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