August 11, 2020
The following is an unedited transcription of remarks delivered by Rep. Ben McAdams (D-Utah) during Fiscal Responsibility, Transparency and Accountability During COVID-19. Watch the full video here.
Rep. Ben McAdams:
Thank you for inviting me to join today. And I really appreciate the Sutherland Institute’s takes on issues of the day and value my relationship with the Sutherland Institute. You know, I really believe that having a thoughtful discussion on complex policy issues is so important as people wonder where they can turn for good information and good dialog.
Rick Larsen has a great team and an important mission—to engage in policy discussions that promote constitutional values and principles. So, thank you for elevating the public discussion and for bringing a variety of viewpoints to the table that’s so important in today’s day and age.
So, since our last time together, the world has turned upside down, rocked by a global public health and economic crisis. One day, the economy in our lives are humming along. The next day, schools and businesses are closed, hospitals are running out of space, and many start to wonder where their next meal would come from.
So, it’s astonishing, it’s also a bit humbling how overnight everything changed so dramatically. No one has been spared. The coronavirus doesn’t care about nationality, religion, educational level, urban, rural, rich or poor. It’s a threat to all of us. Most of you know that I was infected with the virus last March and it hit me very, very hard. I was in the hospital for eight days, so exhausted I didn’t even have the energy to shave or even walk across the room without losing my breath. I’m fortunate to have great healthcare and had great healthcare providers and a supportive family and friends.
The death toll from the virus is an ongoing tragedy, and my experience taught me really how serious the illness can be.
While I was still working in Washington in early March, I supported the first relief bill, a bipartisan $8-billion measure that provided funding for more tests, for hospital equipment, and access to an eventual vaccine. That was quickly followed by Phase 2 which was called the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. It was another bipartisan measure with $100 billion in worker assistance, including emergency paid sick leave, food assistance, unemployment payments, and include a funding to continue the School Lunch Program for low-income kids as schools were closed. Having volunteered recently at a Kearns Elementary School where these meals are distributed, I can emphasize that this is helping so many children receive nutritious food five days a week. And, without this, they would have nothing.
Then, it was actually about two days after voting through that bill, probably more like 24 hours after voting through that bill, I got sick and was hospitalized when Congress passed and the President signed the third bill. It’s the bipartisan CARES Act. So, as a hospital patient during that time, I saw the risks to healthcare workers, that personal protective equipment ran low as the healthcare providers came in to care for me with all of their PPP and taking every precaution they needed to keep themselves safe, and saw first-hand really how important that was. And the CARES Act provided more funding for front-line healthcare providers which was so critical.
The measure also established payments of $1,200 per individual and $500 per child as well as several small business loan programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program that we’ve heard so much about or the PPP as it became known. The program offers loans to small businesses and non-profits to continue keeping employees on a payroll during the shutdown period. The loans are forgivable if the business owner spends a threshold amount on employee paychecks and putting that money into the pockets of hardworking employees.
In Utah, PPP loans helped nearly 800,000 Utah employees to get paid and in turn to pay their bills and provide their families. It kept our economy afloat in that critical time. The initial PPP account, as you may recall, quickly ran out of funds. So Congress passed an extension Phase 3B. We also later passed another bill with some revisions to the program to give applicants more time and to apply for the program and also a simple loan forgiveness process.
Our relief response spending totals $3.7 trillion. $2.2 trillion of that has already been dispersed. It’s out the door. So right there you’re beginning to get an idea of the unprecedented spending levels that we are seeing as a country. Maybe you share the same nagging question that I had: that was so much money going out the door, how can we ensure openness and accountability for that much in taxpayer dollars? The CARES Act included a provision that I championed; a treasury department special inspector general for pandemic recovery to track and account for distributing and spending of taxpayer dollars.
Now, the administration honestly doesn’t have the best track record when it comes to respecting the political independence of these government watchdogs but I continue to push for that accountability.
In July, as the co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalitions Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility and Government Reform, I joined with fellow Blue Dog members of Congress on a letter to the Democratic and Republican House leadership and Senate leadership. We listed the following ideas as ways to improve openness and accountability for the use of our tax dollars even amidst the record spending that we were seeing.
First was to stop sending checks to dead people. This was following a GAO report that the administration had sent $1.1 million checks totaling $1.4 billion to people that are deceased. The second was to protect inspectors generals and whistleblowers regardless of the party affiliation of the President or the administration. IGs are vital to ensuring accountability and spending, and whistleblowers are often the first to raise a red flag on waste, and fraud, and abuse. The third recommendation that we put forward was to show the taxpayers where their hard-earned money is going. We felt it was important that there be transparency, visibility on where our tax dollars are spent. As I remember Sen. Bob Bennett saying so frequently that sunlight is the best disinfectant, that we shine a light on where dollars are spent and that will help to ensure that the dollars are spent responsibly and without waste, or fraud, or abuse.
And the fourth recommendation that we put forward was to shine a light on the Federal Reserve’s action, which has authorized an additional nearly $6 trillion in economic support, in response to the pandemic. Much of that’s been very instrumental in keeping the economy afloat but the taxpayers deserve to know where those dollars are spent.
As I also said, during this pandemic, every federal dollar wasted is a dollar less to support our healthcare system, our workers and our businesses. Protecting taxpayer money should be the ultimate bipartisan cause, and the American people are counting on us to get this right. I was among the first in Congress to call for disclosure from the treasury department and small business administration on which businesses were getting PPP loans. With the speed at which we were trying to get the loans in the hands of small businesses and into the pockets of their hard-working employees, there were bound to be some issues. My phone was ringing off the hook from small businesses who were left at the back of the line during this first round of PPP loans and those stories from Utah’s small businesses motivated me to demand answers, to send letters, and push agencies to follow their own rules and track where the loans were going to… sorry, to ensure compliance.
Those with deep pockets or connections or even some who weren’t eligible were those people cutting to the front of the line and getting loans inappropriately. I’m glad that the treasury department finally listened to my call for the release of PPP loan data at least for loans in excess of $2 million. And now, thanks to the disclosure of those loans, we find out that celebrity clothing lines and hedge funds did receive loans. Every dollar that went to an undeserving, unneedy, or fraudulent company is a dollar that did not help a hardworking person, struggling small business to get through this crisis.
I’m an economic conservative. I believe in living within your means and being responsible with taxpayer’s money. The U.S. is currently experiencing one of the worst economic crisis in modern times. We’ve had to respond aggressively to the pandemic and to the effect on our economy, and that response has massively grown our deficit. The borrowing is largely appropriate as we attempt to offset the negative effects of recession and it’s been bipartisan and signed in the law by the President but an unnecessary response to counter the effects of the recession and spread out the costs over time.
However, the U.S. has entered the current crisis facing already trillion-dollar deficits and an unsustainable debt trajectory during a period of strong economic growth. Our long-term fiscal outlook is dramatically worse today than it was even six months ago. The Congressional budget office recently released an interim economic baseline through 2030. And here are some sobering projections from the CBO.
The budget deficit will total $3.7 trillion. That’s 17.9% of GDP in the Year 2020, an average of $1.6 trillion or roughly 6% of GDP per year for 9 years. As a share of the economy, debt will grow from 79% of GDP before the crisis to 101% of GDP by the end of 2020 and to 118% of GDP by the year 2030. By the Year 2050, debt will reach 220% of GDP, and deficits will total 14.4% GDP. Not only are we stealing from our children’s future, but this pandemic is threatening the promises that we’ve made to older Americans through social security and Medicare trust funds. We have hastened their untimely end. Projections are that these vital trust funds upon which millions of Americans depend will be depleted by the Year 2031. The day of reckoning is coming, and it’s coming quickly.
So I’ve introduced the House version of Sen. Mitt Romney’s TRUST Act. This bipartisan legislation sets up a framework for both sides to work in what we are calling rescue committees, and put forward bipartisan ideas about how to protect and to strengthen these vital programs, and begin to put our fiscal house in order. I will never vote to privatize social security or Medicare or support any change that would undermine the integrity of these programs. Millions of Americans depend on the benefits that they’ve earned through social security and Medicare over a lifetime of work, and I believe we owe it to them and to future generations to carefully consider the options that will ensure that we protect and strengthen these programs. We keep the promises we make and we must keep with the promises we’ve made to provide social security and Medicare to those who are depending upon it.
So, with Congress negotiating another round of fiscal aid, I want to make sure that any additional borrowing is for needs directly related to the pandemic, not to political wish lists. We should target assistance to those that are struggling and those that need the help, not celebrity clothing lines or the LA Lakers. We should bake in openness and transparency from the start. It shouldn’t take me harassing treasury for months to finally get openness for how tax dollars were spent. Once the virus is contained and the economy is recovering, we must stop ignoring the mountain of debt and we must start taking steps to reduce it. We cannot find ourselves in another crisis like the one we’re in right now with deficits at 200% GDP. We will find ourselves without the ability to respond to future crises if we don’t get our fiscal house in order today.
So, addressing this public health crisis is job one, but we must also consider our skyrocketing national debt and work to put forward solutions to reforming out-of-control spending. That’s why the very first bill I introduced as a member of Congress when I was sworn in about a year and a half ago was a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. My legislation would prohibit the federal government from spending more money than it receives in any given fiscal year with reasonable exceptions. If our country’s at war or economic recession, it would still enable us to respond as we are right now to a pandemic but we must get our fiscal house in order and live within our means.
Importantly, my constitutional amendment ensures that we don’t balance the budget on the backs of social security or Medicare. These are, again, the benefits that our seniors have earned through decades of work, and I believe that we should keep the promises we’ve made to those people who are relying on us to keep those promises.
So, I’m an optimist. I oftentimes say I’m a relentless optimist. It’s what you need to be if you’re going to be a Democrat in Utah. And so I think there are Democrats and Republicans like me who do care about this issue starting with the Blue Dog Coalition that I belong to and the Problem Solvers Caucus at which I’m a member comprised of Republicans and Democrats who work to find pragmatic solutions and common ground to some of our toughest issues. I’m working to bring colleagues together, to build a chorus of voices talking about deficit reduction that will be too insistent for leaders of both parties to ignore. We have to have a clamor from the ranks of Republicans and Democrats to insist that we take steps to get our fiscal house in order, to live within our means, to balance the budget, and pay off our national debt.
I will continue to be a strong advocate for restoring fiscal sanity in Washington, D.C. So, these are I think the most pressing issues of our time. First and foremost, slowing the spread of the pandemic, protecting the health of Utahns, ensuring an economic recovery and then getting our fiscal house in order. Thank you for giving me a few minutes to be with you today and for listening and again for the valuable relationship that I enjoy with Sutherland Institute. We oftentimes agree and sometimes we don’t, but I think I value the nature in which you bring civil dialog, respectful dialog, and thoughtful analysis to the public sphere.
Aaron Taylor, Sutherland executive vice president:
Well, thank you, Congressman, again, for joining us this morning and for those relentlessly positive comments. Let me just say to our audience members watching live, please submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Again, that’s email@example.com. Congressman, let me just go in order on I think those three points. You mentioned the public health crisis, economic recovery, and restoring fiscal sanity.
On the public health crisis, as you speak and I know you have worked so hard for many Utah small businesses, what would they tell you as they face the unknown in the fall? Do they believe that we are on track and doing better? And that also relates to the economy. As you’re speaking to these small businesses and chambers of commerce, do they feel that things are improving?
I think many of them would say that our federal government has failed us in response to the virus responses slowing the spread of the virus. We had some early signs of bipartisanship and people working together, coming together to address this crisis but quickly fell into partisanship and finger-pointing. And that has allowed the virus to spread beyond what it should throughout the country and cause additional hardship on American families and our small businesses in particular.
So, I think we are blessed to have had good response from our state government. You know, without a doubt, we will look back at this crisis and see things that could have been done better, should have been done differently. But I think in the moment, we’ve made at the state level good decisions in responding to the crisis and working both government and private sector working to take steps to slow the spread of the virus. So, I think that’s the first thing is we could have done much better and our failings at the federal level have caused harm to the economy and hardship.
In spite of all that, Utah has a strong economic foundation and I’m confident that we will get through this and, you know, recognize there are a lot of people who are afraid right now and feeling that hardship and their businesses are struggling. They’re seeing enterprises that they spent a lifetime building are crumbling in front of their eyes, and so people are rightfully concerned. But I think the foundations of our economy in Utah is strong and we will come through this. But, you know, we still have a moment before the moment passes, and we will come through this by coming together, but it’s going to take Republicans and Democrats, public sector, private sector, employees, and business owners coming together to take responsible steps to slow the spread of the virus, and to stem the economic hardship, and nurture the seeds to recovery in the meantime.
Absolutely. And I think I second that. Let me ask you a follow-up question on that point. As you speak with these small businesses, have any of them voiced further concern about a secondary shutdown and the impact that would have on their businesses?
Everybody’s concerned about a secondary shutdown, whether you’re a small business owner, an employee, a parent. My kids really don’t want to see another shutdown. So, I think everybody’s concerned about that. Now, fortunately, I would say we know a lot more about the virus today than we did when I first got sick back in March. We know better. There’s a lot we don’t know, but we know better today how it spreads and things we can do to slow the spread. And fortunately there are some pretty simple things that we can do to protect against the secondary shutdown. So if you hated the first shutdown like I did and do not want to see a second shutdown, I think we know some things that would actually be pretty effective.
Wear a mask any time you are in proximity to people outside of your family unit. Practice social distancing. Keep your distance from people. Wash your hands. Practice good hygiene. You know, none of those things are perfect. Somebody described it as Swiss cheese. So you have a slice of Swiss cheese that has a few holes in it, but if you have slice after slice after slice, it only takes three or four slices of Swiss cheese before there are no holes, right, and we are protecting against the spread of the virus. So let’s do some simple things like that. If you care about the health of your neighbor, the health of your loved ones, and the hardship that would come from another shutdown, then let’s just each do our part.
In the rugged Western spirit that we are, we are rugged individualists, and we believe in self-reliance, and we believe in taking responsibility for our own choices. So let’s do that. Let’s do our part to protect our state, to protect our economy and protect those around us who might get hit hard by the virus.
Perfect. Excellent, thank you. Let me turn just temporarily about restoring fiscal sanity. You talked a lot about the daunting, if not disastrous, deficit, more than $3 trillion alone this year, that we’ll be facing. How are you working within your own party to prevent or solve the statistics that you mentioned? Feel free to reiterate them for those who perhaps may have joined a little late. And is there interest from your own party in Sen. Romney’s bill?
Yeah. So, Sen. Romney’s bill is bipartisan. We have Republican and Democratic sponsors in the House as well as Democratic and Republican sponsors in the Senate, so there is interest. The debate quickly has, as Sen. Romney will tell you, become a finger-pointing exercise accusing Sen. Romney of wanting to eliminate social security and Medicare.
Now, to be clear, the bill does nothing in that regard. We all know there are differences of opinions about what needs to happen with social security and Medicare. I’ve laid out my opinion that we should not cut those programs that are so vital to so many Americans and have worked. But what the bill does is essentially recognize the reality that those trust funds will be insolvent and we have only accelerated the timeline for the insolvency of those trust funds.
So let’s acknowledge the fact because, if we just keep ignoring the fact, then we will get to the date of insolvency with no solutions. So let’s acknowledge the fact that our actions are…disarray in our fiscal house has caused crisis to the trust funds specifically social security and Medicare but so many other trust funds. The transportation trust fund is another one. And let’s acknowledge that. Let’s put together a rescue committee that would come together and make recommendations to solve that. And so there is interest in… I think the first step to solving a problem is recognizing a problem, so that’s what the TRUST Act does is recognize that there is a problem and that we need recommendations on how to address it. So that is one thing.
I think you also have to address spending outside of social security and Medicare which is general government spending. As a former mayor myself, I balanced the budget every year. We had a AAA bond rating in county government. Moody’s, by the way, just gave notice that they are looking at a future downgrade of U.S. bonds if we don’t get our fiscal house in order. And that would be a huge cost to the taxpayer. If we’re increasing interest rates on U.S. government debt, that would be a huge impact to the budget with as much debt as we have and we’re carrying right now. So, we have to address spending.
And I actually think that a requirement…as a mayor, when I had to balance the budget, it meant we had to make tough choices. We had to look at every penny and make sure that it was spent effectively. And we could only fund great investments, even good investments. Bad investments we had to cut. Good investments had to become great or they weren’t justified. And so we worked very hard, and I think that’s a healthy exercise for government to go through to justify the expenditure of every penny of tax dollars. Those are dollars that belong to the American people, and we should take our stewardship seriously as we work to ensure that those tax dollars are spent wisely or given back to the American people if they can’t be spent wisely.
Thank you for those comments. Let me ask one more question on the TRUST Act. What about the TRUST Act do you think will produce different outcomes than previous bipartisan commissions such as the Simpson-Bowles Act. How do you see the results will be different with this particular bill?
Well, Simpson-Bowles was all-encompassing and what we saw with that is it unfortunately came forward with a variety of recommendations that were promptly ignored by Congress. I think the hope with the proponents of the TRUST act is that we narrow the scope to specifically the trust funds and what can we do in the short-term, in the immediate-term to secure the long-term viability of those trust funds, which is so important.
Okay, great. Thank you. Let me now turn to a question from the audience, if I may. Coming from the Democratic side of the aisle, what social programs do you feel that you are willing to cut to reduce government spending? And specifically with regards to social security, would you be willing to raise the age for social security? This would affect me so I’m concerned with the debt, but I feel raising the age for receiving social security is vital.
So, I don’t support raising the age for social security. I think that too many people have made decisions reliant upon the promises that we have made and we should keep our promises.
The way that I’m approaching it and one of the things that I did as mayor was used data-driven proposal and making sure that we are using data and evidence to guide our decisions. I think too many of our funding decisions are based on maybe a gut instinct or pet projects or pet programs. And we actually need scientific, empirically based data to evaluate what programs are working, what’s good ROI, either ROI in dollars but also the human return on investment, how effective is an initiative at delivering the goals that we set for it. So many of our federal programs right now have no stated objectives.
And so I, when I got into Congress, founded the bipartisan What Works Caucus. Its goal is to bring greater degree of evidence and data to our government decision-making as we evaluate the expenditure textile. So I think before you go in, you know, I’ve opposed things like across-the-board cut when they say we’re going to cut this budget by 10% across the board. Well, you may be cutting programs that have a huge return on investment by 10%, and you may be at the same time cutting programs that have 0% return on investment by 10% when the reality is, if you have good data and evidence behind your decision-making, there are some programs that maybe should be increased and others that should be cut entirely. The basis of that decision before we go in and haphazardly slash at things is to have empirical data that underlies every decision we make and then make decisions knowingly not haphazardly.
I’m so glad you mentioned that. In a former life, I worked actually very hard on effort around that called the Foundations for Evidence-Based Policy [inaudible] government programs and making sure that the government has been reporting to the public which programs are effective and which ones are not.
Let me briefly turn to… You spoke about transparency and making sure that taxpayer money is spent wisely and where it goes, specifically with regard to the PPP. You mentioned and championed an aspect of the relief bill that would prevent inappropriate spending. What has that tracking shown and have they been successful? And I think you mentioned the special inspector general in the prevention or catching of any fraud.
Well, so, you know, we were able to provision…I was a champion for getting a provision in the bill in the CARES Act to require the appointment of a special inspector general. Presidents, Democrat and Republican, hate inspector generals. They see that as cramping their style. So, I don’t mean to be pointing fingers at this administratin because the Obama administration also did not like inspectors general, but this administration refused to appoint an inspector general. And so I was very frustrated to see that critical piece of oversight was completely ignored.
And so that’s where my efforts turned to then, putting pressure on treasury in the SBA to disclose the names of businesses who had received PPP loans and, you know, again believing that sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we can show where the dollars went, many in fact of those PPP loans went to needy businesses that then turned around and put it in the pockets of their employees. And it kept our economy afloat in that critical time and I think kept us from the brink of economic disaster. It was a very useful program.
But we also saw when those numbers were disclosed, unneedy and potentially even inappropriate expenditures to businesses who…some reported having no employees. Some reported, you know, instances of businesses that seemed to have been formed for the sole purpose of getting a PPP loan or, you know, celebrity cothing lines, the LA Lakers, Shake Shack, Ruth’s Chris Steak House that…now, I don’t doubt that their revenues went off the cliff, but these programs weren’t intended for them. They had other places… Those large mega corporations have other places to look for access to capital. These PPP were meant for those businesses who really probably had very few places to look for a lifeline, and we wanted to ensure that those businesses stayed afloat, that the connective tissue of our economy stayed intact, that as the economy came back and people emerged from a shutdown, there were jobs to come back to, and I think it served that purpose. But also by disclosing the loan amounts and the loan recipients, we were able to look with a critical eye to where our tax dollars were going.
And the critical thing for me, especially in that first round, some of these small businesses had applied for loans and the money ran out before their loans could even be processed. And they were left asking themselves, if you had to be well-connected to a mega bank in order to get a loan, that was wrong. And for every loan that went to Ruth’s Chris Steak House, I think they got $8 million, that was hundreds of small businesses who were unable to access a business-saving $30,000 or $20,000 loan.
And so, you know, I think it was critical that we had that disclosure. I was happy to see treasury finally relent and make that disclosure, because we’ve seen some of those businesses return the money that they didn’t need under that scrutiny and ensure that, in the future, loans are available for those struggling businesses who really need it.
Thank you. Since hindsight is always 20/20, no pun intended, where would you place blame and put corrective policies in place? As those small businesses think about it, like, how did Ruth’s Chris Steak House get $8 million or any other example? Is it in the processing process? Is it SBA in their questionnaires? And you also mentioned the number of dead people that had received those [inaudible] checks. Because as the public were constantly hearing these stories, we were wondering what processes and policies need to be put in place to stop that.
Well, I think we need to recognize that we gave treasury and the SBA an enormous task. You know, I often say that when it came to the CARES Act, Congress had the choice of acting perfectly or acting quickly, and we chose quickly, which meant that it was by no means perfect at the congressional level and was no means perfect in the execution by treasury and by the SBA. I think we have to take it in the context of what we were facing at the time, the immense pressure, the immediate shutdown and the incredible need that was throughout this country.
So, I think we have to understand the pressure under which the treasury and the SBA executed the task that we gave to them. It’s not an excuse for treasury, but I think it can help to understand why perhaps some of those decisions were made. What I think is critical, again, is just disclosure. So, as those loans have been disclosed, now we can look at it, the public can look at it, the media can look at it. Taxpayers know where their money is being spent and we can look at it and those businesses who…take Ruth’s Chris Steak House. I guess there’s no indication that Ruth’s Chris Steak House did anything criminal. It certainly was inappropriate. And so they have chosen to repay the loan to give the money back. And that was the right decision. That decision only came about because of the sunlight that was placed on disclosure so people could see where the dollars were spent.
There also seemed to have been some instances, perhaps criminal or fraudulent behavior in applying for those loans. Those should be investigated by the proper authorities. And if indeed criminal fraudulent actions were taken, they should be prosecuted. So I think it’s in the disclosure. I think that was the key is not having disclosure upfront. I think if people had known that the actions of procuring a PPP loan would be disclosed, people would have been more thoughtful about the dollars they took out. Now, we remedied that. You know, it’s never too late. So we were able to remedy that at least with dollars over $2 million. I would still like to see disclosure of amounts under $2 million because I think we’d see a lot of corrective actions at that point as well to make sure that there’s no waste of our tax dollars, or fraud, or abuse.
But the disclosure, I think, would have been better to have upfront, knowing there were going to be some mistakes and execution and some mistakes are understandable, not acceptable, but understandable. But the transparency, I think, is the best protection we could have had and I think the mistake was not writing that in, you know… We had the inspector general. I think we probably should’ve been more explicit in that legislation. The next [inaudible 00:38:25] I expected we will be more explicit. And then to see treasury forthcoming sooner and to a greater extent forthcoming with the loans that have been given out would’ve protected us from some of the abuses that we saw.
Sure, sure. I love your quote from…you said it was Sen. Bennett that sunlight is the best disinfectant. That’s so wise and needed every day in Washington.
Let me venture a little bit outside of the COVID-19 discussion just briefly. Because you are so focused on transparency, what are other areas just within general government where you think additional transparency is needed and what efforts are you making in that area?
Well, you know, one area that I think is important is also in healthcare. So, one of my priorities in Congress is fixing a broken healthcare system. I hear so often of people who can’t access their healthcare, can’t afford their healthcare. You know, we passed the Affordable Care Act. That was in, what, 2008 – the Affordable Care Act was passed long before I ever ran for office, but it solved some problems relating to our healthcare system and it caused others.
One of which I think that we need to address is surprise billing. So transparency in medical billing, making sure that people know what a procedure costs and can make informed decisions about their healthcare. We have a long way to go with that and, look, I don’t mean to…I believe in free markets and the power of markets. I know that that analogy to healthcare isn’t perfect. You know, if I’m having a heart attack, I’m not going to shop around. I’m going to call an ambulance and go to the closest hospital. But other aspects of healthcare, there’s absolutely a market and yet the market doesn’t function appropriately because we don’t provide information to the consumer about their healthcare.
So transparency and healthcare and making sure there’s no surprise medical billing, that people know upfront the cost of a medical procedure, and have the ability to make informed decisions about where they receive their healthcare, from whom, and what they pay for. And I think that would do a lot to increase quality in our healthcare system and help to bring down cost.
And lastly let me venture a little bit into what you previously mentioned on the current negotiations. I know the public have seen the President just sign four executive orders. But where do you current negotiations between Democrats and Republicans stand? I know members in both parties, on a bipartisan basis, want to react. Where do you see those negotiations today and how do you see them playing out over the next few months?
I’m incredibly frustrated with the inability of Congress, Democrats and Republicans, to find common ground while American people are suffering. People’s unemployment insurance has run out. We are putting at risk our economy and the stability of our economy. We’ve I think successfully so far kept the economy somewhat stable, not to say there hasn’t been a lot of hardship and isn’t still a lot of hardship but we’ve avoided a financial catastrophe. And yet here we are allowing once again partisanship to put at risk the health, the welfare of the American people and the stability of our economy. And so it is inexcusable that we sit here today without a bipartisan agreement on next steps of controlling the virus and stabilizing the economy.
The President took steps to get a measure. Now, without the legislative branch, without the House and the Senate, the tools at his disposal were limited. I’m never going to complain about efforts to try to extend relief and to manage this. So while I certainly have some criticism with how the President has handled this pandemic, I also have criticisms with how the House and the Senate has handled the pandemic, I’m not going to criticize someone making an effort.
Most economists I’ve heard say that those executive actions taken by the President will not be sufficient or complete, and so I think, like, all of us are watching to see House leadership, Senate leadership and the President work on a deal. I’m putting pressure everywhere I can to insist that we have to have a deal, that we cannot be unreasonable in our negotiations. I once again applaud Sen. Romney for putting forward time and again. He’s put forward his position, and he’s put forward multiple offers of compromise where we might be able to find common ground.
From what I’ve seen, those offers have fallen on deaf ears, both Republican and Democrat, and it’s inexcusable. So we’ve got to come together. The executive actions are an effort; I would say probably not comprehensive enough.
You know, I guess I would also say…so, it seems like one of the sticking points is the sheer dollar amount. And I hear many Democrats worrying that we aren’t spending enough to get through this pandemic and, you know, I also want to point out the other side and I have pointed out the other side. Going back to our earlier points that I made, certainly the worst thing we could do for the deficit and the debt is to watch the economy go off a cliff and do nothing to stop it.
So I understand those who are worried about what we are doing to stabilize the economy and preserve the stability of our economy, but I also have to say that I worry about spending too much. You know, it seems like the counter argument has been since some Democrats are worried that we’re not doing enough, therefore let’s do everything to put everything in a bill, throw everything at a wall and see what sticks without regard to the fiscal consequences for our decisions. And we know that whatever we spend the day to get thorugh this, we are going to have to pay it back—us, our kids, and our grandkids. And there are consequences as well for unregulated spending that will have a negative impact.
So, yeah, we’ve got to come together to do what we need to do to get through the economic crisis and the health crisis that we’re facing. But we shouldn’t lose sight of fiscal responsibility and making sure that everything we do, every penny we spend to get through it is critical and needed and not just a political wish list.
So, you know, I would like to see a deal. I think the Democrats need to come down from some of their demands. I would like to see…you know, we’ve got to come up with a consensus on unemployment. It should never be more lucrative to not have a job than it is to have a job, but there are a lot of people right now who are struggling and preserving some sort of unemployment benefit is critical for them, for their families, but it’s critical to the stability of our economy, to the stability of our real estate markets and our financial markets that people are able to continue to pay rent, and to pay a mortage, and provide for their families. It’s so critical for the economic stability of our country.
Partisanship will have taken an enormous toll on our country. It is time to come together and find an agreement that can get the support of the House and the Senate and get the President’s signature.
One last question, if I may, and then we’ll wrap up. On that unemployment point, I noticed that Sen. Lindsey Graham, I think before either an amendment or just the idea, you know, cap it at 100% of what individuals were earning in their day jobs. Has that idea gained more consensus in Washington?
It’s something I would support. Part of the problem with the $600 right now is it means different things in different parts of the country, right? So, we know that wages in Utah are lower than a wage in New York City. And so, you know, I’ve certainly heard from small businesses who say that employees don’t want to come back especially if you’re a service worker in a restaurant reliant on tips and the volume of customers is so much lower. And then certainly you’re going to get paid a lot less working than you would on unemployment. That also raises concerns just generally about making sure employees are earning a livable wage for sure. But again I would come back to the premise that it should never be more profitable to stay at home than it is to work.
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Caring for children and families in vulnerable situations is an undoubted public priority, and everyone willing to provide good-faith help is needed.
The year 2021 has started fast and furious in the political space. Rioting at the U.S. Capitol and the banning of our president from certain big tech platforms like Facebook and Twitter have continued the national discussion about speech and ideas.
Ensuring that Utah civics education is adequate will take a statewide commitment from more than just the Legislature (and it’s usually better when it comes from more local decisionmakers), and it will demand that we avoid simplistic solutions about teachers or schools simply needing to “do better.”