Op-Ed: Americans are ready for a comeback. Congress must help unleash it.

Thursday, April 09, 2020

As published in The Washington Post

America is experiencing a moment of crisis, but it need not be a period of decline. From our great cities to our rural towns, Americans everywhere are making enormous sacrifices for the sake of their fellow citizens. It is clear from these selfless acts — nurses and physicians working long into the night; delivery workers bringing essential goods to their neighbors’ doors; church groups assembling care packages for the ill — that Americans’ love of country is undimmed and American courage is unshaken. In fact, Americans are ready for a comeback. And Congress must help to unleash it.

The stakes are high. We are in the midst of the greatest health crisis in a century, with an economic crisis to match it. Because of government health measures adopted to fight the virus, millions of Americans have been laid off in a matter of weeks, wiping away years of job gains. Small businesses are struggling to keep the lights on. And lifesaving medical products needed to fight this virus are in short supply.

Now is the time for bold measures to answer this hour’s need and position this nation to surge ahead once the disease is broken.

That is why the next round of coronavirus relief legislation is critical. Congress must get it right.

We cannot afford to make a few fixes to existing programs and hope for the best. We must think differently and be bold.

Here is what I propose: Because the government has taken the step of closing the economy to protect public health, Congress should in turn protect every single job in this country for the duration of this crisis. And Congress should help our businesses rehire every worker who has already lost a job because of the coronavirus.

Beginning immediately, the federal government should cover 80 percent of wages for workers at any U.S. business, up to the national median wage, until this emergency is over. Further, it should offer businesses a bonus for rehiring workers laid off over the past month. The goal must be to get unemployment down — now — to secure American workers and their families, and to help businesses get ready to restart as soon as possible.

This approach will prepare us to surge into recovery. Workers will benefit from the steady paycheck and the knowledge that their jobs are safe. And businesses, able to retain their workforce at little cost, will be poised for success once the economy reopens.

We must also move decisively to secure our critical supply chains and bring production back to this country. The present crisis has revealed just how vital domestic production is to our national life. And yet, for decades, an alliance of big government and big business conspired to outsource the manufacturing of our most crucial supplies and equipment to China and other overseas sites.

Now, dangerous shortages of key medical supplies reveal just how self-serving and reckless those decisions were.

It is past time to secure our supply chains by adopting strong local-content requirements for all industries essential to our crisis response, to be phased in when the current emergency ends. These measures should be paired with generous financing for all businesses looking to move back home.

Finally, in an effort to protect our small businesses from a feeding frenzy by bigger firms, Congress must crack down on crisis profiteering by Wall Street. Strong antitrust enforcement and stiffer corporate transparency rules will help to ensure that, when our economy gets moving, we don’t have a wave of mergers and liquidations that set our workers back yet again.

As the stakes mount, some in Congress will no doubt be tempted to fall back on old ideas and programs, such as tweaking the tax code or spending more on pet projects. But that approach is not equal to this moment.

Make no mistake, the cost of addressing this crisis will be substantial: Some economists estimate the price tag on meeting unemployment claims may rise to the hundreds of billions. But better that money be spent on saving jobs now and getting Americans ready to work than on bailouts and mass unemployment claims for months and months to come.

Congress must choose a comeback. We can adopt a bold program of protection and renewal that will secure our workers and turbocharge our economy for the years to come, if we have the foresight and the courage. It’s time to go all in on the future. It’s time to go all in on America.