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Assault on America, Day 450: In COVID-19’s wake, fiscal sanity is demanded, not requested

It’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

Such is the feeling derived from the non-stop flood of news concerning the COVID-19 coronavirus, the Chinese borne pandemic that’s spread the world over and succeeded in accomplishing within a matter of weeks what no spy chief or foreign leader could ever have hoped to gain in a lifetime’s worth of verbal assaults and propaganda campaigns -- the near destruction of the United States economy.

Case and deaths totals continue to rise as experts pore over the data to discern whether we’ve neared a peak and will therefore begin the slow, inevitable decline towards societal-wide health and normalcy (if it’s possible any longer). Meanwhile, some of those same authorities wage a back-and-forth on the value of treating patients with existing malaria medicines and how effective or ineffective they would be. Rumors of a vaccine also circulate.

Each day brings fresh reports of famous people who’ve tested positive for coronavirus. Most of them insist they’re asymptomatic and are self-quarantining accordingly -- and that people shouldn’t worry. Does this mean the virus is less toxic than originally believed? Why do some get deathly ill from it and others don’t?

The hodgepodge of information, together with government leaders in various locales ordering entire populations to stay away from each other has people awful scared. As usual, congresspeople and senators appear to be one step behind in assessing and reacting to the crisis, their solutions centering on borrowing and dumping enormous sums of money on the American public. Necessary? Time will tell. Closed businesses and citizens sheltering in place has brought conditions to a virtual standstill. In my town out-of-the-blue deaths have been reported but causes withheld due to privacy concerns. Do the people next door have the virus? Everyone’s confused. Shouldn’t they tell us?

Most agree something needed to be done to save individuals and businesses that were most offset by closures and the halting of economic activity. But will we as a society end up regretting the magnitude of Congress’s aid package? Was the treatment worse than the disease? Are we saddled with the bloated new federal bailouts forever? It’s only been a short while and already conservatives and Republican seem to be experiencing emotions that look a lot like remorse.

W. James Antle III wrote at The Washington Examiner, “Democrats and Republicans have sparred over the exact contents of the emergency legislation, with each accusing the other of prioritizing pet programs over cash-strapped businesses and workers stuck at home in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But President Trump and lawmakers mostly agree on new federal spending to avert a coronavirus-induced economic collapse, with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin playing a significant role in negotiating with Senate Democrats. And Senate Republicans have repeatedly rebuked their Democratic colleagues for blocking a bill.

“This has put conservative groups and lawmakers who are supportive of Trump, but critical of excessive spending, in an awkward position. While conservative opposition to the red ink billowing from Washington intensified under the Democratic administration of Barack Obama, much of this infrastructure was created in response to the bipartisan bank bailout signed into law by the previous Republican president, George W. Bush. These groups in turn helped elect members of Congress who promised to be more consistently fiscally conservative, some defeating pro-bailout incumbents in Republican primaries.”

Ah, sounds like the good old days, doesn’t it? Opposing new government outlays was perfunctory for many of us, knowing how inefficient and wasteful government tends to be with redundant spending and poorly veiled giveaways to special interests as the norm rather than the exception. Not so long ago, conservatives pushed for policies like “cut, cap and balance” and pressured the political class into agreeing to budget sequesters (not that anyone figured they’d keep them -- and they haven’t). Budgets got bigger and bigger, politicians pontificated and granstanded about fiscal responsibility and citizens got more and more frustrated from being lied to.

Democrats demonized the rich and glorified the entitled. Republicans called for tax cuts but weren’t willing to keep their less-is-more promises on the spending side, particularly concerning the defense budget. Neither party’s leaders ever talk about what they’d eliminate if placed in power.

Washington politicians hemmed and hawed over annual budgets, shutdown the government every so often and swore oaths that it was the “last time” they would ever agree to compromising principles on the budget. Belt-tightening was not part of President Trump’s 2016 winning campaign message and he’s stuck to his promises to keep the federal gravy train rolling, though an honest person would concede he’s more spending conscious than Hillary Clinton would have been. At least Trump asked for and received tax reductions and tax code reforms that made more sense than the old ones and unleashed the economy, creating economic growth levels Barack Obama couldn’t produce in two terms.

And no one disputes that the Trump administration has worked overtime to slash regulations and reduce harmful economic activity-squelching bureaucratic red tape. All good things. Trump has been good for conservative causes and for the country. This doesn’t necessarily stop being true now that COVID-19 has forced a massive government stimulus response.

But there’s still a feeling of dread today, isn’t there? “I have done the deed. Didst thou not hear a noise?” asked an incredulous Macbeth to Lady Macbeth in the William Shakespeare classic of the same name. In the referenced scene, the ambitious Scottish thane had just murdered his king, spurred on by a prophecy and the urgings of his wife. (Hillary Clinton has been compared to the power-obsessed Lady Macbeth on numerous occasions, but who’s to say?) One gets the impression that congressional Republicans must now be feeling a little bit like one of literary lore’s greatest turncoats, though they’ll keep up with the “it was necessary to save the nation” rhetoric in interviews.

(On another note, Democrats ensured that there would be no aid for the Trump hotels.)

Everyone’s washing their hands a lot these days, but Republicans who just gave the go-ahead on a $2 trillion government backed-spending package must’ve felt like taking a shower afterwards. One wise colleague commented that my thirteen-year-old’s grandchildren would still be paying back the money appropriated just this week. Did soap and hot water wash away the grimy feeling from selling out the future?

Remember, Macbeth eventually paid (with his life) for his lack of worldly self-restraint. One wonders if we’ll all pay for the happenings of the past month, though it’s doubtful our story will end as badly as it did for the Shakespearean tragic character. The grim reaper doesn’t bother visiting over debt and bankruptcy, does he?

But what happens now? A horrific precedent has been set, not only with the political class’s dishing out cash to everyone and signing into law obligations we can’t hope to pay back within a reasonable amount of time (don’t forget we still owe for all the other stuff and the national debt was over $23 trillion at last check). Somebody, somewhere will account for what Congress just did. Politicians point fingers and make predictions about who will win and lose at the ballot box, but when the dust settles from this, everyone’s going to say, “We did what?”

Logically speaking, this isn’t the end of it either. The cash payments will serve as balm on contemporary psychological wounds and expunge some worries from the brows of distressed people. But is this just the beginning of a new normal? If history is a guide there will be other virus scares and pandemics in the not-too-distant future that will have many of the same scaremongers out front screeching like birds of prey over a kill that enough isn’t being done to stop the new plague.

Will Trump or a future president feel pressured to shut down the economy again to demonstrate sufficient sensitivity and apprehension, and will Congress throw together another “one-time” aid bill to drag folks out of economic depression? A quick look at past plagues and pandemics indicates they sometimes reoccur and even if a certain virus is taken care of, there will be others.

Everyone who knows anything about government and the way Congress operates understands it’s easy to vote for crisis-combatting legislation but extremely arduous or impossible to get rid of the new programs once they’ve been instituted. It’s not that people lose faith in their own abilities to take care of themselves, it’s the political class that’s terrified of losing their electoral foundation if they’re the driving force behind unhitching the benefits wagon.

Now more than ever something MUST be enacted to rein in the budget. Perhaps someone will revive the idea of a Balanced Budget Amendment; or the solution could be much more straightforward, simpler and fairer -- how about Senator Rand Paul’s penny plan? Such measures would slow the growth of the budget over time, allowing citizens to absorb the “hit” that much easier. Most would never even notice. What federal agency (including the military) couldn’t reduce its expenditures by 1 percent every year until a balance is reached?

Will Americans, once they’re “permitted” to return to work and start socially mixing again (with a renewed sense of caution and personal hygiene) demand a political conversation on debt? Will they force both parties’ leaders to address the dilemma and present possible solutions during this fall’s campaign? Or will the election merely devolve into a typical bidding war Democrats and Republicans engage in every election cycle?

For his part, President Trump hopes to have most entities up and running by Easter. Brett Samuels and Morgan Chalfant reported at The Hill, “’I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,’ Trump later added.

“His decision to set a specific date came after days of discussion among advisers, but the truncated time frame breaks with public health experts and some lawmakers who have said containing the virus should take precedence...

“Trump’s comments come after days of advisers debating internally over how to balance the need to stamp out the virus with aggressive social distancing measures with the desire to boost the economy. The decision has been complicated by the looming election, where Trump’s stewardship of both the economy and the response to the virus will play a key role in his bid for a second term.”

There’s no way Trump would change the federal guidelines based on political reasons alone. But there must be a point where a balance is reached and people are given the green light to work and live again. And, as Trump has said a lot lately, keeping the economy shuttered will result in its own set of life-threatening ill effects due to stress, loneliness, increased substance abuse, etc.

One thing that doesn’t get mentioned a whole lot these days is the enormous burden placed on young Americans during this crisis. Kids can’t go to school, can’t socialize with friends, can’t go to the playground, etc. Parents can’t go back to work if their kids aren’t taken care of. These are all considerations.

Many of those concerned that Easter would be too soon to “start up again” are saying the virus could keep spreading and medical facilities be overwhelmed. But Trump could be suggesting an Easter timeframe due to a drastic uptick in respirator production and mobilization of resources. He knows more than we do, and Trump is correct -- America needs to go back to work.

States have the leeway to set their own guidelines on dealing with the coronavirus conundrum. Sooner or later the nation’s economic health must be given its due consideration, largely because Congress can’t keep assembling multi-trillion-dollar aid packages. The future has arrived and we can’t afford to dismiss it.

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