A $900 billion down payment

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One Hundred Dollar Bill With Medical Face Mask on George Washington.
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We are under siege. The U.S. will end 2020 with 330,000 people dead from COVID-19 — a virus none of us had even heard of when the year began. Some 18.7 million Americans have been infected by the virus, entering them into a lottery whose results are anywhere between no symptoms and death. More than 12.6 million people are out of work. Small businesses are struggling or closing. Demand for hospital intensive care beds exceeds capacity.

It is in the face of this frightening national reality that the recent $900 billion stimulus package was passed. But it took Congress and the White House an unacceptably long eight months to agree on the legislation. In the end, the $900 billion was more money than some Republicans wanted, much less than many Democrats demanded, but is much better than doing nothing while Americans struggle and suffer.

President-elect Joe Biden called the bill a “down payment” on inevitable future relief legislation. Everyone knows it won’t be enough.

To help ensure passage, the legislation was attached to a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill, which will fund the federal government through next September. While President Trump objected to the size of the $600 stimulus checks in the package, most of his complaints — aid for Egypt, Pakistan and Cambodia, for example — were actually about items in the omnibus spending bill. But focusing on the bipartisan stimulus package, there are welcome jobless benefits, aid to small businesses, stimulus checks, money for vaccine distribution, and aid for schools and child care. Faith-based organizations are eligible for PPP loans. A moratorium on evictions is extended until Jan. 31 and there is emergency assistance for renters.

What’s missing is the Democratic-favored aid to state and local governments, which have borne the brunt of the pandemic’s impact. Also left out of the package was a Republican priority — a liability shield to protect businesses from virus-related lawsuits. Included was $1.4 billion in new money for Trump’s border wall.

Nine-hundred billion dollars is a lot of money, and there are significant consequences to passing sprawling aid packages. Someone has to pay for them. America isn’t printing money to pay for the spending, but it is selling government bonds at a low rate of return. We are literally mortgaging our future to save our future. That makes sense. But we need to be careful.

U.S. debt will grow by a record $4.5 trillion in 2020. How are we going to pay for it? Many Americans have already shown that they aren’t ready to sacrifice for the national good, even if it is for something as easy as wearing a mask. So we worry that getting Americans to agree to pay more in taxes to offset relief spending will be very difficult to achieve.

We hope the same bipartisan support we have seen for relief efforts will continue in support of necessary funding for it.

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