In February 2009, then-President Barack Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which pumped $833 billion into the economy, in response to what was being called at the time an …
In February 2009, then-President Barack Obama passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which pumped $833 billion into the economy, in response to what was being called at the time an unprecedented financial catastrophe. America’s first stimulus bill followed several months after the passage of George W. Bush’s $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act, which provided a number of bailouts to banks on the “too big to fail” argument. Combined, the two packages together cost taxpayers about $1.84 trillion in 2020 dollars.
What followed this period of federal largess was a widespread and visible Tea Party movement, which attempted to rally people to support many conservative values — among them a principled commitment to fiscal responsibility in Washington. Estimates of the number of attendees vary, but the Tea Party’s Taxpayer March on Washington in September 2009 is considered to be one of the largest conservative protests ever held in the nation’s capital.
Just this last week, Congress passed a $2.3 trillion Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security bill. While there were some partisan spats over what would be included in the mega-appropriation, about the only opposition to the bill was from U.S. Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kentucky, who very briefly held up a vote on the bill by insisting Congress follow the laws laid out in the Constitution. This obscure document has a pesky rule that says a quorum requires 216 members of the House to be physically present to vote, and Massie’s objections were unsuccessful. The bill passed on a voice vote, meaning we have no record of who voted for or against the measure.
For his trouble, Massie has been universally despised across the political spectrum, with President Donald Trump calling him “a third rate grandstander.” Aside from that quibble over Constitutional law, no lawmaker raised meaningful objections to increasing the national debt, which at last count stood at about $23 trillion. At this point, though, who’s counting?
Just as Obama and ARRA supporters argued at the time, supporters of the CARES bill argue the nation faces an unprecedented crisis that justifies the expense. There is no doubt a lot of people and businesses are hurting over a pandemic on a scale not seen since the 1950s Asian flu pandemic. Maybe this stimulus truly is needed and the right move at this time. We’ll leave that up to you to decide.
However, the near-total absence of a voice in Washington taking a position of fiscal prudence on either side of the aisle demonstrates we’re an era in which such positions have apparently vanished altogether. Before the pandemic hit, the Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office referred to the nation’s long-term fiscal outlook as “unsustainable.” Now, tax revenues are going to collapse, demand for government services is going to skyrocket, and the U.S. Mint is running its massive money printers full time.
At one time, the two parties distinguished themselves by a difference in philosophy over government spending, among other things, with Republicans generally being the voice of fiscal prudence. That’s no longer really the case.
America’s future is going to be full of unprecedented challenges, and if recent events are any indication, there will be bipartisan support for throwing trillions of borrowed dollars at whatever those crises might bring. It’s hard to imagine this ending well.