Republican leaders closed last week by saying it's time to put a pause on the massive coronavirus spending Congress has been doling out, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is starting this week by telling her colleagues, "Think big."
Congress has already passed close to $3 trillion to try to stave off economic ruin spreading from a health tragedy that's already pushed 33 million people out of jobs, and left local governments, colleges, businesses and hospitals facing major budget shortfalls. Pelosi and Democrats think taking a pause is exactly the wrong thing to do right now, especially if the nation is to have any hope of resuming at least semi-normal economic activities any time soon, without losing vastly more people to the pandemic. So, Pelosi is citing the advice of Jerome Powell in a Dear Colleague letter she sent after midnight. "The Chair of the Federal Reserve Bank has told us to 'Think Big' because interest rates are so low," she wrote. "We must 'Think Big' For The People now, because if we don’t, it will cost more later. Not acting is the most expensive course." Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer delivered a similar message in opening Senate floor remarks Monday afternnon. "Now is not the time for timidity. Now is not the time for small thinking. Now is a time for action, big, bold, continued action," Schumer said.
Exactly what that means in legislation that Democrats are calling "CARES 2" remains to be seen. But Pelosi specifically flagged broad items that different Democrats have already been talking about. First, taking care of frontline workers, particularly those that depend on government checks. "Americans also agree that we owe our heroes in the fight against coronavirus an enormous debt of gratitude – our health care, first responders, teachers, transit, food and other essential workers who risk their lives to save lives and who could now lose their jobs," Pelosi wrote. "To do that, we must act boldly to support state and local entities to address coronavirus-related outlays and lost revenue." This is likely to be a big ask worth hundreds of billions, and one that Republicans have been slow to agree to. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's first reaction to adding more state and local aid was to suggest looking for ways to let local governments declare bankruptcy. He's walked that back a bit. Democrats are likely to seek even more money for people directly, including a new version of the $1,200 checks already sent through the Treasury, perhaps even recurring basic income payments that some on the left are calling for. At the very least, Democrats will seek more cash to ensure people stay in their homes and can weather extended stretches of Covid-19-caused unemployment. "We all agree that we must put more money in the pockets of the American people," Pelosi wrote. "This is not only necessary for their survival but also is a stimulus to the economy. Direct payments, unemployment insurance, rental and mortgage help and student loan assistance are essential to relieve the fear that many families are facing." Another massive outlay Democrats are likely to pursue is a major infrastructure package that they unveiled earlier this year, both for its own sake and for its new importance to responding to the pandemic. That would involve more than $760 billion for not just roads, highways and bridges, but water and power systems that ensure people can stay safe at home. The plan also features more than $100 billion in technology investments, largely for broadband and 5G development, which also helps people do more from home. A $75 billion package of loans and cash for the Postal Service is likely to be on tap, as well. Beyond that, Democrats are likely to propose various structural reforms that would have the benefit of helping keep people safe from biological threats such as beefing up supply chains, improving OSHA and FDA oversight, and other regulatory programs. And if "think big" is indeed the watch word, there are likely to be calls implementing more green technology. While Republicans have called ideas like requiring cleaner airline emissions "left-wing wish-list" items, the thinking there is that if the nation is going to spend enormous sums of money saving businesses and rebuilding infrastructure, it would be irresponsible to do nothing about the even larger, more permanent crisis facing the nation and the world -- climate change. Lacking many of the specific proposals, it's hard to guess the price tag of the next package, but there is already talk of equaling that previous $2.3 trillion measure. Add the infrastructure plans, and we're talking $3 trillion. That's certainly thinking big. Is it big enough to forestall a new Great Depression?