Something unprecedented has happened in recent weeks. The passage of the CARES Act—the largest stimulus package in American history—and broader debates about government spending, production, and health care have fundamentally shifted the political paradigm. As the coronavirus pandemic ravages an already fragile economy, consensus is building, even among the deficit scolds of 2008–2009, around the idea that our government must spend more and create stronger safety nets to avert the worst of this and future crises. The 96–0 vote in a gridlocked Senate captures the enormity of the moment.
Reflecting longer-term trends of support for more robust government spending and progressive economic policies, Americans largely approve of the CARES Act’s relief measures for workers and small businesses. As a Washington Post-ABC News poll showed, “more than 8 in 10 Americans—across party lines—support providing cash payments of $1,000 or more to Americans with annual incomes of less than $100,000, and 9 in 10 support providing billions in financial assistance to small businesses.” More divisive: assistance for large corporations, with 47 percent opposed.
But according to a Data for Progress poll, most Americans are also concerned that the law fails to provide all workers with paid sick and medical leave and that future bailouts for corporations might not require recipients to keep workers on payrolls.
Those valid concerns demonstrate two points:
1) This stimulus, while an essential and sizable step forward, does not do enough to protect workers from falling two steps behind; and
2) The popular support is there for building on the momentum of the CARES Act to create a more resilient economy for all.
The current progress of big thinking cannot be overstated: As Roosevelt Director of Progressive Thought Mike Konczal wrote for Dissent, “universal unemployment insurance, a coordinated national labor policy, and a basic income were all discussed at a level that was unthinkable a month ago.” Expanding upon prior work and international precedent, economists such as Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman have proposed that “government should pay not only wages of idled workers, but also essential business maintenance costs, like rents, utilities, interest on debt, health insurance premiums, and other costs that are vital for the survival of businesses in locked down sectors.”
As near unanimous votes in Congress last week proved, a new consensus on government spending is taking shape. The work of experts like Roosevelt Fellow J.W. Mason and Nobel Prize–winning economist Paul Krugman has long shown that deficits are no obstacle and that permanent stimulus is both possible and socially valuable.
In a time of extreme anxiety, debt and deficit are secondary to protecting the lives and livelihood of all people; Americans agree. We have the real resources available in our economy to address their concerns and honor their wishes for greater security. In doing so, we can build a more resilient economy.