Tens of billions more stimulus in the works
The surge in omicron variant cases across the country has some in Congress pondering yet another round of economic stimulus checks – roughly $68 billion worth for “an array of businesses — including restaurants, performance venues, gyms and even minor league sports teams.”
It’s all at the preliminary stage. But as history has frequently shown, Congress is always eager to hand out goodies in an election year. Except this time, there’s some organized push-back from free market groups, who sent a letter to Sens. Ben Cardin (D) and Roger Wicker (R) urging them to think twice before cranking up the printing presses:
Rising cases and hospitalizations due to the omicron variant no doubt present a challenge to America’s health infrastructure and workforce, but economic data do not suggest businesses urgently need tens of billions of dollars in additional, taxpayer-funded grants. The unemployment rate stood at 3.9 percent in December 2021, less than a half a percentage point higher than the nation’s pre-pandemic low. For months, there have been more job openings than unemployed persons, with the rate of unemployed persons per job opening matching a 15-year low. We do not dispute that some businesses and industries are struggling more than others, but your reported effort to set up multiple industry-specific funds would amount to the government picking winners and losers with taxpayer dollars – all at a time when the data suggest the American economy is slowly improving.
The groups say that if Congress insists more stimulus is needed, the money should come from the hundreds of billions of dollars already approved – but not yet spent – for the job:
Tracking at USASpending.gov indicates that up to $500 billion in unobligated budgetary resources may remain available from previously enacted COVID relief legislation. This includes $107 billion from state and local government funding accounts, at least $62 billion from Small Business Administration (SBA) loan and grant accounts, and $18 billion from the Education Stabilization Fund. Though the government’s data is a few months old at this point, it is reasonable to expect that, at a minimum, tens of billions of dollars in already-approved COVID relief funding has not yet been obligated or disbursed by federal agencies.
If some lawmakers are concerned about additional public health funding to combat the omicron surge and not additional funding for business grants, we would still ask lawmakers to look first and foremost at the potentially billions of dollars in authorized, appropriated, but unobligated and undisbursed COVID relief funding available in public health accounts. We strongly believe it is possible for the government to combat the effects of omicron without saddling America’s taxpayers with additional debt.
Bottom line: Spend what you’ve already got.