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Feehery: If money is no object, let's solve some pressing problems

Feehery: If money is no object, let's solve some pressing problems
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Money is no object, apparently.

We have been taught by historians and economists that the government can’t have both guns and butter.

Tell that to Neel Kashkari, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, who told “60 Minutes” a couple of weeks ago that we need to print as much money as possible to get out of this COVID-19 depression.

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I am not an economist, but I do have a Master’s degree in history (that and a quarter would get you a cup of coffee in the old days), and I vaguely remember what happened to the Weimar Republic in the aftermath of the Great War.

That didn’t turn out too well.

Economists and historians disagree on what caused the Great Depression. Was it a collapse of the trade system, brought on by Smoot-Hawley? Was it the Great Stock Market Crash of 1929? Was it the Federal Reserve, which refused to adequately flood the market with liquidity? Or were there other demographic issues, caused by a drop in population from the World War I and the Spanish Flu?

But we will have a pretty good idea of what caused the COVID Depression of 2020. The economy was going strong until about March 17, when the world collectively decided to take a collective break and ordered every non-essential being to stay at home.

And now we are faced with a Hobson’s choice. If we decide to save the economy, a small percentage of the public (somewhere south of 1 percent) will likely perish from the coronavirus. If we decide to shelter in place for the rest of the summer, economic growth with contract, untold people will lose their jobs, their savings and their sanity. It’s unclear how many would die from the stress of those losses, but my guess is it would exceed 1 percent.

If money is no object, I have my own wish list of problems that need to be solved.

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We need to get the homeless off the streets. You can’t shelter in place without a place to shelter. We shouldn’t ignore this festering sore anymore. We need to take the mentally ill, the addicted, and the unlucky and find them a place to live. It’s not only good for the soul, it’s also good for public health and studies show it’s better fiscally.

We need to create public hospitals that have excess capacity. These hospitals should be geared towards the poor and provide basic essentials to keep them healthy. Most of our nation’s hospitals were running at 95 to 98 percent capacity, which is why they can’t handle an uptick in cases that come from pandemics like COVID-19.

We need to take care of basic infrastructure in this country. We don’t need a building boom that will waste taxpayers’ money, but there are plenty of failing bridges, aging aqueducts, over-crowded highways that need to be fixed, modernized and expanded.

We also need a Marshall Plan for Main Street.

I worry about the local restaurants, the frame shops, the small vendors, and the thousands of small manufacturers that will never come back from this government-imposed crisis. They need a lifeline and they need it fast.

Congress passed and President Bush signed the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), the big bank bailout, in 2008. The legislation was not popular with populists of all stripes, but it worked pretty well to get us out of the worst financial crisis and it actually turned a profit for the federal government. Yes, we actually made money on the investment.

If money is no object, we should use TARP as an example. How can we provide support for the American people now and make money for taxpayers later? Helping the homeless, building public hospitals, rebuilding our national infrastructure and creating a Marshall Plan for Main Street can help dig us out of this mess now and perhaps put us in a better place fiscally in the future.

Feehery is a partner at EFB Advocacy and blogs at www.thefeeherytheory.com. He served as spokesman to former Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), as communications director to former Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) when he was majority whip and as a speechwriter to former House Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.).