Early Saturday morning, I voted against the Pelosi-Mnuchin Wuhan virus legislation my colleagues and I had no time to debate, amend, or even read. In a time when we need to come together and do things the right way, we passed badly flawed legislation without doing our due diligence to ensure our solution does more harm than good.
Where to start? The bill purports to help people by putting a massive mandate on small and medium-sized businesses while perpetuating the K-Street Corporate welfare cronyism Americans are sick of – exempting businesses over 500. Worse yet, the mandate was to be paid later through tax credits, and the tax credits would not even cover it all.
This was a terrible mistake, and the Senate (or the House, in its “technical corrections,” it is hurrying to the floor to clean up its mess) ought to correct it. Small business owners have reached out to me to ask what we can do to help stop this so they won’t be hurt. In short, it does no good to mandate “paid leave” from a job that doesn’t exist because the business went under.
To solve that problem, I suggest – and would have on Friday, had we had the chance to speak, let alone put forth amendments – offering very expansive and immediate small business loans, and other measures to keep businesses afloat through the negative impacts of government calls to stay home. Due to the action and recommendation of government leaders of all levels, we are facing massive slowdown for restaurants, retail, the arts, travel, hotels, and more. It is fully and wholly unsustainable for most. Therefore, we have a duty to find ways to inject capital and help them stay afloat – and tie any temporary sick leave requirement to the choice of the business to take the loan rather than through the force of penalty.
We should get busy using tax relief. Be it with deferring tax filing or quarterly payments or otherwise to provide immediate relief. For the unfortunate folks who, starting this week, are likely getting laid off due directly to government action, particularly in the service industry, we are going to have to find ways besides taxes to provide additional relief. It’s not clear the Unemployment Insurance relief in the House bill will sufficiently or effectively deal with the magnitude of the impact on service industry workers.
Our goals should be simple. First, ensure we get on top of testing, supply chain problems, and our ability to respond to the virus nationwide. Second, ensure ample liquidity and capital for businesses being hammered by both the virus and, much more, our response to it to survive. And third, ensure relief for American citizens also getting hammered because they too will be laid off due directly to government calls for folks to sequester themselves. Our biggest imperative is that we get through this quickly and keep businesses going through a multi-faceted approach.
In addition to loans to boost short-term capital, it’s important that we encourage creative thinking in both commerce and charity. For instance, encouraging Americans to buy gift cards for food, offering double or triple tipping, and/or encouraging modified approaches to “eating out” by ramping up more delivery and pick up options. It’s already happening in the private sector, but we should find ways to expand it and encourage it through deregulation, like what Gov. Greg Abbott is already doing in Texas (e.g. transportation & trucking).
We must also make plans in the event that our medical infrastructure starts to get overwhelmed. Empty hotels can be used to deal with some of our possible health care needs. We should encourage a mix of government support combined with charity. Perhaps a service workers relief fund to support those losing work (in part or full), or those having to care for children or loved ones.
We are facing an historic challenge, and we will adapt and rise to it, but it will not be without significant hardship. Government can and should act, but it cannot do so with the recklessness that Pelosi and Mnuchin did late last week by rushing the legislation to a vote. It harms Americans more than it helps by picking winners and losers and turning legislation being sold as “help” to Americans into crony corporate welfare.
Instead, we need to act decisively and swiftly to find health care solutions, while keeping the wheels of commerce moving as much as possible, and then back to full speed in a very short period of time. This is how we beat the Wuhan virus.