Trump, Biden should reject big spending and focus on real coronavirus relief

President Donald Trump and Vice President Joe Biden will meet today for their last debate before the election, and it’s a good bet they’ll bicker about who’s to “blame” for the lack of another massive coronavirus package from Congress. But that argument completely misses the point.

Congress has already appropriated trillions of taxpayer dollars as a result of the coronavirus. Despite more than $1.7 trillion of the COVID-19 response spending not even yet disbursed, politicians are proposing to spend trillions more. But while throwing money at problems might earn headlines in beltway media, there are three policy reforms Congress can pass right now that will help Americans recover stronger, without costing an arm and a leg.

First, Congress should provide liability protection to businesses, hospitals, schools and charities that follow coronavirus guidelines. This would give them significant incentive to follow the guidelines, as it would alleviate concerns about unfair and costly litigation at a time they could least afford it. We know that when the pandemic is hurting so many businesses, the last thing they need is the costly legal bill that comes with frivolous lawsuits. At the same time, this would preserve legal recourse for individuals hurt in genuine cases of negligence or criminal misconduct.

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Second, patients should be given more power to control their own health care by expanding access to health savings accounts and making permanent many of the temporary waivers of pointless rules that restrict access to care.

In the months since the pandemic struck, telehealth visits have increased dramatically, and it’s estimated that there will be as many as 1 billion such doctor visits this year. Telehealth saves time, increases flexibility, and might reduce the chance of spreading coronavirus. Permanently removing restrictions that limit access to telemedicine services would make routine and follow-up procedures more accessible and less expensive, particularly for those in rural areas. When government gets out of the way and gives doctors and patients choice, our health care system is better able to help patients get care wherever and whenever they need it.

Third, Congress should take this opportunity to repeal the unnecessary and costly regulations that always harm economic growth, but take a particularly heavy toll now. The administration can also suspend federal red tape such as the Davis-Bacon Act, which needlessly drives up the cost of government construction projects, and unnecessary requirements under the Jones Act, National Historic Preservation Act, and other expensive and redundant federal standards.

These steps could make a big difference in allowing America to recover stronger. But because the debate is taking place in Washington, the focus isn’t on inexpensive and effective steps. It’s on a big and costly number.

Here’s a big number: $23 trillion. That was the size of the national debt before coronavirus hit. Since then, the COVID-19 measures enacted by Congress have cost $4.1 trillion. According to the Congressional Budget Office, the public debt is now on track to reach 107 percent of GDP by 2023 — meaning the country will owe 7 percent more in debt than our economy produces. That would be the highest level in history. That growing debt burden weakens long-term growth and makes it harder to address the next crisis, whenever it comes.

For years we have seen bad public policy enacted in Washington by politicians who believe that spending other people’s money makes them generous. We need to change that mindset — and it can start right away, with real reforms that will deliver real benefits to the American people. I’d encourage both President TrumpDonald TrumpDOJ asks Supreme Court to revive Boston Marathon bomber death sentence, in break with Biden vow Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting DOJ tells media execs that reporters were not targets of investigations MORE and Vice President BidenJoe BidenFormer Rep. Rohrabacher says he took part in Jan. 6 march to Capitol but did not storm building Saudis picked up drugs in Cairo used to kill Khashoggi: report Biden looking to build momentum for Putin meeting MORE to take that message to heart, starting now.

Tim Phillips is president of Americans for Prosperity.