History shows that big national shocks have a way of changing the role of government in lasting ways—and any shock as big as the coronavirus pandemic inevitably will alter political life and philosophies in America.
The crisis has been not just a public-health emergency requiring a sweeping response, but also the cause of the most searing economic pain since the Great Depression, summoning forth a multi-trillion-dollar government intervention into the economy.
Much of today’s new government activism will recede over time along with the virus. Yet conversations with a broad cross-section of political figures suggest there is little reason to expect a return to what had been the status quo on federal spending, or the prevailing attitude toward the proper role of government.
“The era of Ronald Reagan, that said basically the government is the enemy, is over,” said Rahm Emanuel, a moderate Democrat who served as mayor of Chicago, a member of Congress and President Obama’s first White House chief of staff.
An echo came from the other side of the political spectrum. “The era of Robert Taft, limited-government conservatism?” said Steve Bannon, President Trump’s onetime political guru, referring to the Ohio senator who fought the expansion of government programs and federal borrowing. “It’s not relevant. It’s just not relevant.”
As Congress weighs another relief package amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic which has many small businesses closed until stay-at-home orders are lifted, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) floated out the possibility of a minimum guaranteed income for workers.
Pelosi said on “MSNBC Live” a minimum guaranteed income is “perhaps” now “worthy” of getting looked at being added into the next funding package.
Congress’ mad dash to shovel nearly $3 trillion into the economy and rescue failing industries met little resistance as the coronavirus crisis overwhelmed communities across the country.
But now the hangover has set in.
The sprawling CARES Act, and its similarly rushed companion bills, has fueled rising angst for lawmakers. They’ve been bombarded with complaints about breakdowns in the small-business lending program, loopholes that have allowed large companies to snatch cash meant for smaller operations and administrative failures that have delayed stimulus checks to struggling American households.
Hospitals, lawmakers say, are competing with each other and the federal government for lifesaving equipment for their employees, and coronavirus testing is still hard to access in many parts of the country, despite Congress’ efforts.
And it’s all occurring without the oversight operations meant to confront these problems as they arise.