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Assault on America, Day 441: COVID-19 + pols + media = taxpayers on the dole for $850 billion

Rise to Occasion
“Now hold on a second here, let’s consider this for a moment.”

It's something everyone’s heard from mom or dad or grandma or grandpa -- or a spouse -- at some stage in life, the calming voice of reason before embarking on a potentially self-destructive flight of fancy, the consequences of which couldn’t possibly be ascertained ahead of time. The young and inexperienced often make hasty decisions from which they’ll suffer and likely regret in a matter of days, weeks or months. Sadly, so do seasoned adults.

Fortunately we can look to the past for answers to dilemmas of the present and glimpses of the future.

Such is the case for Americans these days in figuring how to deal with the COVID-19 novel coronavirus (or more aptly named, Hunan virus). Every day brings a new twist -- outbreaks, (a few) deaths and greater and greater government responses. It was only a few weeks ago Democrats jumped all over President Donald Trump for proposing allocating only an additional $2.5 billion for masks, test kits and other measures to combat the would-be plague. Now, with much of the civilized world shut down or practicing social distancing (by government edict or an overabundance of caution), the financial stakes have increased to epic proportions.

Anyone who might’ve figured this China-induced panic would pass without severe after-effects had better face the changed reality. Morgan Chalfant reported at The Hill yesterday, “The Trump administration will seek approval of a roughly $850 billion emergency stimulus package from Congress in order to ease the economic impact of the coronavirus, a senior administration official confirmed on Tuesday…

“The senior administration official stressed that the proposal is a tax proposal, not a spending stimulus as Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is proposing. The Post reported that the stimulus package could include a payroll tax cut and is expected to include about $50 billion to help the airline industry specifically…

“The package that the administration is seeking, if approved, would represent the third such action Congress has taken to address the impact of the virus, which has sickened well over 4,000 people in the United States, rattled the stock market and prompted school, business and other closures across the country.”

That’s right, $850 billion. To put things in perspective, the defense budget for fiscal year 2019 was $693 billion. The proposed 2020 defense budget was $718 billion. The numbers get pretty big as the years go on and as was true in the past, no one’s really sure who’s spending what and where it all goes. That’s the problem when government -- or any entity -- gets too large, including the military. There’s no accountability because there isn’t a person on earth who understands it all.

Many have analogized the federal government to an impregnable and immune-to-everything movie monster that can only be stopped by the desperate and heroic actions of a superhero. 70’s rocker Ted Nugent called such a beast “Fedzilla,” which provides all the appropriate imagery. Unfortunately, this sequel version of “Fedzilla” is not only still alive, it’s loose and growing more out-of-control by the day -- and who knows if the government can approach solving the coronavirus dilemma even after all the dough’s been transferred.

Unbounded and uncontained is definitely the case with the government’s current attempts to deal with the emergency. The actual numbers, by comparison, are tiny and fairly insignificant in the annals of history when discussing health pandemics and epidemics. Even with lots of people getting sick from COVID-19, this is pretty clearly not in the same category as the Black Death or even the famous flu of 1918 (Spanish flu, H1N1 influenza virus, the same as 2009’s swine flu) which wiped out hundreds of thousands or millions and permanently changed the world. There’s no need to dwell on current figures since they change by the day and most people have accepted that there’s a problem and President Trump and Congress are dealing with it as best they can.

Or you would think. Maybe it’s time to take a step back and ponder what we’re doing here. $850 billion? That’s a lot of zeroes considering no one comprehends the true costs involved with this. And of course, “Chucky” Schumer doesn’t want tax relief -- he wants “stimulus.” Just open the checkbook and start scribbling, people!

A payroll tax cut actually makes sense here because it immediately puts additional buying power in the pockets of people who could get the economic engine started again. But small business owners will need special considerations too, because they won’t benefit much from taxes they’re not paying when they’re way down in revenues. Ouch.

In essence, it’s the same for every “crisis” of public confidence. If someone somewhere is worried about something, the political class’s first instinct is to dump cash on it. Politically speaking, they have to do it. Remember when John McCain suspended his 2008 campaign to head back to Washington to work on the economic collapse initiated by the housing bubble burst? A whole host of bailouts resulted from it under Bush and Obama. As they always do, the rich got richer (because they know how to game the system and steer “help” their way -- it’s moral hazard) and the rest of us were saddled with higher regulations and more rules we’re still grappling with.

Anyone applied for a mortgage since 2008? You know what I’m talking about.

How did we get to this point? There’s a good argument that politics and media drove the whole thing. First the sensationalism-peddling media picked up on reports of the “novel” coronavirus in Hunan, China, acquired video and photos of lots of people with masks and concerned looks on their faces, then learned of the Chinese government’s fantastic explanation (eating bats at an outdoor market?) for the origin of the outbreak, and it was off to the horror races.

As soon as it became clear that COVID-19 had spread well beyond east Asia the panic intensified, as did the availability of photos and video of more sick people and vivid imagery of corpses on stretchers, overstuffed hospitals and overwhelmed medical personnel working beyond normal human limits to treat the afflicted. By the time the news reached American soil there was additional evidence of pretty scary stuff (such as that Princess cruise ship quarantined in Japan). Europe’s liberal travel and lax border enforcement spread the disease.

Political pressure was brought to bear in the United States. Post-impeachment, the Democrat presidential candidates turned to a different topic and started blasting the Trump administration for not taking the matter seriously. They invented grossly distorted fabrications like the president had purposely weakened the CDC. Naturally the news media did its part to fan the flames of fear, opening each evening segment with some sort of coronavirus coverage, every report complete with red graphics to match the shocking pictures. Then they impaneled biased pundits to talk about it.

It was only a question of time before President Trump was forced into reacting to the rapidly growing panic. To do otherwise was political suicide. In an election year, public opinion is subject to minute fluctuations in American attitudes. Trump’s original common sense-based “we’re doing everything we can and this too shall pass” stance became untenable.

Democrats did their part to make it worse, attacking everything Trump did while also complaining that the money he’d requested to deal with the outbreak wasn’t nearly enough to manage its magnitude. The increasingly visible government medical experts became virtual celebrities overnight, and they did what they’re supposed to do -- warn citizens of the danger and recommend that everyone take special precautions to keep themselves safe. There wasn’t anything newfangled with this advice -- wash your hands, wipe down surfaces, avoid touching your face, keep your distance from sick people. We’ve all been doing it since childhood.

The media took it from there. They frightened the heck out of elderly people (which granted, should be extremely concerned) and liberally tossed out the “pneumonia” term. The public freaked out. Anyone who’s seen elderly relatives’ or friends’ life force slowly fade due to pneumonia knows it’s often a death sentence to those who contract it.

Meanwhile, eyewitness testimony started creeping in from Europe, particularly from Italy. The internet disseminated the information -- and what was previously an item of major concern now became full-on dread. The media reported on more and more cases by the hour. Doctors truthfully commented that the coronavirus, left unchecked, would eventually spread to most everyone. With no vaccine in sight, the terror scattered across political and emotional boundaries.

How bad is it? Now we basically can’t leave our homes. Or if we do, it’s only to the grocery store or in some instances, to work when we can’t toil from home. Restaurants are still serving, but only takeout is available. Sports leagues have all-but given up naming possible dates of return. Schools are looking at contingency plans on how to finish the academic school year. Life has stopped and there’s no resuscitating the confidence people had just a few weeks ago.

And the government is proposing allocating $850 billion -- yes, more than the entire defense budget -- to compensate people who’ve been impacted by the economic consequences of human social behavior. The political class must do it or face extinction by angry voter mobs at the ballot box.

Shouldn’t we take a moment here to step back and think about this thing before we go any further? Or are we really planning to lay out $850 billion to make it all go away -- or more likely, provide the political establishment an excuse in case things really go haywire?

Thankfully there are some positives from all of this. Vice President Mike Pence is finally getting his due. Jennifer Harper reported at The Washington Times, “As chief of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, Vice President Mike Pence has upped his profile plenty on the public radar. Mr. Pence is also getting good reviews.

“’He’s a daily, consistent presence on the airwaves. He provides useful info rather than random digressions. He leans on health and medical experts — both at public events and behind the scenes,’ write Axios co-founders Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei, in a review of this uncommon surge.

“It is his ‘presidential moment,’ they say. ‘Pence, 60, a likely contender for the Republican nomination in 2024, has become one of the most praised administration officials during the virus crisis,’ they note.”

Indeed, Pence has been a remarkable soothing presence throughout the media-induced hysteria, standing by President Trump’s side in media appearances and providing a stable -- and likable -- figurehead for the administration’s efforts.

No one feels good about what’s happened in the past month but at least it’s comforting to know Mike Pence is leading the government’s response. Pence would never take advantage of the exposure to further his own political prospects. The man is decent to the core. We’re fortunate to have him.

We could not have foreseen what’s happened with the coronavirus up to this point and there’s no way to predict where events will go from here. The media pressured the political class into reacting/overreacting to a serious threat and now we’re preparing to dump hundreds of billions into it. What holds the future?

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