The fantasy of unlimited money

It never ends.

Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled her vision for the next round of congressional action to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, and it is a vision of mountains of cash.

Pelosi’s plan would spent $3 trillion, which would make it far and away the largest coronavirus relief spending package to date from Congress. For context, federal receipts in the 2019 fiscal year were $3.46 trillion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unveiled a more than $3 trillion coronavirus aid package Tuesday, providing nearly $1 trillion for states and cities, “hazard pay” for essential workers and a new round of cash payments to individuals. (Graeme Jennings/Pool via AP)

When you start to unpeel the onion and see what is inside this proposal, it becomes even more shocking in scope.

A full $1 trillion in the proposal is earmarked for states, cities and tribal governments, and is intended to plug budget gaps and prevent public employee layoffs.

In addition, it would offer another round of cash payments to individuals, once again at $1,200 for individuals as well as $6,000 per household.

It creates a $175 billion fund to pay people’s rent and mortgages.

The bill would spend $200 billion on “hazard pay” for those workers deemed essential who have been working throughout the crisis.

It maintains the additional $600 per week payments to unemployed workers through January 2021.

On top of that, it creates an employee retention tax credit, hikes payments for food stamps, spends $75 billion on more virus testing, creates new subsidies for workers who have lost their jobs, and so many other things I’m not even going to bother listing. There’s even $25 million in the bill for the Postal Service.

Pelosi is calling her bill the “Heroes Act,” a bit of Orwellian ninjutsu no doubt intended to make her proposal unassailable to criticism. After all, how do you argue against heroes?

If you find yourself wondering what kind of universe the speaker is inhabiting that would convince her that these actions are either prudent, or that the federal government can even come close to affording them, don’t bother. There is no trans-dimensional gateway that will bring you to a place where any of her ideas would be rational.

But rational or not, there are those who will try to make them happen.

On May 6, Gov. Janet Mills announced that she was forming an “expert committee” of individuals who would come together to develop “recommendations to mitigate the damage to Maine’s economy caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.”

One member of this committee is James Myall, a policy analyst for the Maine Center for Economic Policy, a liberal think tank. On Tuesday, Myall tweeted his thoughts on the current state of the world. “We’re in a weird stalemate right now,” he said. “Governors are trying to do a lot with very little money; Washington has almost unlimited money and is trying hard to do very little with it.”

You read that right: “Unlimited money.”

To Myall, and fellow members of the increasingly strident hard-left of American politics, money is a plaything. There is no such thing as financial constraint. There is no such thing as scarcity of resources. Government funding is Monopoly money, and the bank never runs dry.

This fiscal year — before the COVID-19 crisis — the federal government was on track for a $1 trillion deficit. On top of that, we have now spent $2.2 trillion on the first round of relief programs, including the now famous Paycheck Protection Program. On top of that is the $484 billion that was added in the second round. So we are already on the hook for a deficit of nearly $4 trillion in a single year, which is itself not even accounting for the revenue drop that will inevitably be occurring in the last months of the fiscal year.

Three trillion dollars on the top of that would represent a single year deficit of almost $7 trillion.

Myall, who has been a proponent of dramatically higher taxes even in the best of times, will unquestionably advocate for higher taxes in Maine while serving on this committee. He would likely do the same if he was serving in the federal government.

Yet no amount of class warfare and heavy-handed taxation of the supposedly “rich” can even pay for programs like Medicare of All, let alone the litany of other massive spending proposals featured in left-wing circles. Certainly, it won’t pay for $7 trillion of new debt. It won’t pay for the more than $1 billion hole in the Maine budget next year.

To say nothing of the punitive effect such actions would have on any economic recovery.

The COVID-19 crisis has had a catastrophic impact on all sectors of American society. It is a serious problem. Serious problems deserve serious answers, and proposals like Pelosi’s, which bear no resemblance to the real constraints and difficult decision making necessary in government deserve to be dismissed out of hand.

Matthew Gagnon

About Matthew Gagnon

Matthew Gagnon, of Yarmouth, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. Prior to Maine Heritage, he served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C. Originally from Hampden, he has been involved with Maine politics for more than a decade.