Loma Verde, California is building a $24 million recreation center with a pool. Forest Lakes, Minnesota is getting a $1.5 million golf clubhouse, while San Antonio is purchasing a $15 million theme park.
These may seem frivolous when rampant inflation is threatening, but never mind, they’re all “free,” a synonym for “paid for by the feds.”
America is awash in cash. Hundreds of other communities are enjoying similar goodies. States in no fiscal difficulty whatsoever have been given billions in budget boosts.
Checks for thousands of dollars have gone to citizens not even claiming to be in need. Millions of Americans receive enough government cash that they can now avoid the inconvenience and degradation of work.
These are the outcomes of President Biden’s $1.9 trillion-dollar American Rescue Plan, although the link to COVID may seem obscure to some. But the bigger point is that our governing culture today sees government spending as a positive good, which may be prompted by any excuse or none at all.
This is a continuation of the age-old argument over the role of government. For those who see government as a benign force that can efficiently, by use of its taxing power, address the common welfare and assure equitable outcomes, every dollar transferred from private to public hands is a positive.
Moreover, Big Government clearly increases the power and prestige of government officials. It creates beneficiaries highly likely to vote for those politicians who “cared” enough to send Other Peoples’ Money their way.
Vastly expanded government has also affected the attitudes of Americans toward the role of government in their lives. To an extent unthinkable to earlier generations, Americans now assume the federal government will take responsibility for such matters as healthcare, education, childcare, and aging parents.
The founders of our Constitution would not be pleased. Their original intent was to create a more just and independent society than the autocracies which had plagued mankind for millennia. Regrettably, Americans have blandly looked on while much of their birthright has been stolen.
Much of the recent confiscation of our nation‘s economic output has come under the pretext of COVID spending. But remember that the COVID financial crisis was a self-inflicted wound. The lockdowns were unprecedented and proved ineffective as a pandemic response strategy, but they precipitated a huge expansion of government power.
America has so far spent $6.4 trillion in COVID relief bills. The $1.9 trillion in the 2021 American Rescue Plan alone was enough to buy every COVID vaccine, ventilator, and hospital in existence. But much of the money went to beyond-obvious pork and to support Democratic political constituencies.
New York, among others, is reportedly sitting on $12.7 billion in unneeded COVID funds that they hope will revert to “unassigned” dollars. The money was pushed out so carelessly that the Labor Department IG estimates $163 billion of the $872 billion in COVID unemployment funds were dissipated in fraud.
The consequences of all this unnecessary spending are predictable and enormous. In 2009, then-President Obama warned against continuing deficits when the debt had doubled from $5 trillion to $10 trillion under his predecessor.
It was $20 trillion by the time he left office, stands at $30 trillion today, and will reach $45 trillion by 2032 according to Biden’s own budget projections.
But trifles like stifling debt and lack of need can’t suppress the political urge to spend. With COVID receding and no extraordinary expenses pending, Joe Biden’s new budget proposal rings in at $5.8 trillion, fully 31% higher than in 2019.
Federal revenues rose 18% in 2021, then 26% this year, but it’s not enough. Biden‘s $2 trillion projected deficit means the debt will have climbed $7 trillion in just the last three years. Multi-trillion-dollar deficits have effectively been normalized.
It could be worse. We narrowly escaped passage of the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better boondoggle. Yet now Biden has the gall to demand $30 billion more for COVID expenses when at least $500 billion from the last COVID relief bill is still unspent.
The mindless, immoral imperative to spend more knows no bounds. Time is running out to reverse course. When will we come to our senses?
Let’s face it. America botched its response to the COVID pandemic.
Traditionally, as in the Spanish flu and polio pandemics, authorities have recommended common sense public health measures and protected the vulnerable. This time, they ordered sweeping lockdowns of the economy and closed schools, churches, and businesses.
The results were economic devastation, educational stagnation, greater income inequality, and loss of civic life.
Sweden, even though it has a reputation for a more collectivist mindset than our “land of the free” got it right. Their health officials adopted a live-and-let-live strategy, mostly rejecting lockdowns and letting normal life go on.
Initially, health outcomes suffered some, partly because Swedes neglected to adequately protect their nursing homes. But today, probably because of herd immunity, Sweden’s death rate is just over 1614 per million, compared to 2335 in Britain and 2836 in the US.
Even better, Sweden avoided the multiple consequences Americans now face. GDP growth is projected to be 5% larger than pre-pandemic, and they don’t face a mountain of future debt. Since schools stayed open without face masks, there were no lost years of education and test scores are up.
Unfortunately, America’s response to the self-inflicted wounds caused by our COVID panic caused yet more harm. When confronted with the results of their mismanagement, America’s governing leftists reverted to their universal solution for all ills: spend more money.
So last March, President Biden triumphantly announced “help is here” as he signed the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. We were assured that the truly massive spending would help defeat the pandemic, reopen schools, and revitalize the economy, creating at least 4 million additional jobs.
We now know the bill was a colossal failure. We didn’t get more jobs, but we did get ominous inflation even though Biden had insisted that “no serious economist” predicted inflation as a result of the spending surge.
The inflation was totally predictable. At least 1.8 million people declined to reenter the workforce when the $300 per week unemployment benefit supplement was extended. That’s understandable since one study indicated that in 19 states, a family of four with two “unemployed” adults could receive $100,000 in total government benefits.
Meanwhile, trillions more were pumped into the economy. This excess demand, combined with fewer goods and services being produced, was the perfect recipe for inflation, which “serious economists” now acknowledge is probably here to stay.
Why did the plan have no effect on COVID? Answer: it didn’t really try. PolitiFact concluded only 10% of the bill addressed COVID health impacts and 1% went to advancing vaccines, the most effective way to impact serious disease.
Instead, the ever-vigilant spenders saw their chance to enact a wish list and took it. Their dreams that came true included $20 million for “preservation of Native American languages,” raising Obamacare subsidies, and a massive expansion of the child tax credit.
Since the feds are sitting on so much surplus funding (sarcasm alert), $350 billion went to state and local governments to help them weather the pandemic. But even when the bill was being considered, it was already clear that state-local tax revenues were growing, and their budget crisis never materialized. It was simply an excuse for feds to shovel out money, mostly to their friends in Democrat states.
Public schools were also showered with $120 billion to help them reopen safely. But the funds came with no requirements attached. By the end of FYI 2022, only $40 billion will have been spent, leaving education administrators with an $80 billion slush fund. Thanks, COVID.
So, another $1.9 trillion accumulates onto our debt load, and we have precious little to show for it. We have fewer jobs than were predicted in the “baseline” without the bill, and there was minimal or no effect on the course of the pandemic.
Lesson learned? Nah. Biden preposterously proposes spending yet more on Build Back Better, an even larger collection of handouts, as an inflation cure. Yet our debt is not only higher than ever ($30 trillion) but rising interest rates now will make our debt service more expensive and hasten the Day of Reckoning.
The controversy over COVID management is not a medical disagreement but a political fight. It’s also a free speech issue, the question of whether those who disagree with the political/medical status-quo should be silenced.
Although we have learned more over time about the origins and development of COVID, there is no question it is a contagious virus that spreads primarily through respiratory secretions.
Infections range from symptom-free to fatal, but serious disease and death occur almost exclusively in the infirm and the elderly. Like all viruses, the coronavirus mutates, apparently into variants that are more contagious but less deadly.
So far so good. The disagreement is over its containment. Americans have become a risk-averse people, where nonsensical catch phrases like “if it only saves one life” and “in an abundance of caution” have supplanted sober cost/benefit analysis.
So, our government’s go-to solution for the pandemic was lockdowns for everyone. Commercial, social, educational, and other personal interactions were halted to stop the spread of the disease.
The results of this massive experiment in public health were disappointing. 800,000 Americans have perished. There may have been some benefit to “flattening the curve”—spacing out illnesses to avoid overwhelming healthcare facilities—but the total number of fatalities was not much affected.
Meanwhile the cost of the lockdowns was enormous. The federal government spent $6 trillion in COVID relief, much of it wasted or misappropriated. Moreover, virtually all of the handouts were debt financed, pleasing current taxpayers/voters but assuring that Americans will be struggling financially far into the future.
The collateral damage included over 90,000 “excess deaths” due to forced shutdowns of routine preventive and diagnostic care. There were sharp spikes in levels of depression, substance abuse, and overdose deaths, especially among the young.
The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) in October 2020 was based on addressing these “grave concerns about the damaging physical and mental health impacts of the prevailing COVID-19 policies.” It recommended an alternative approach called Focused Protection.
The authors were respected physicians from Harvard, Oxford, and Stanford with 91,000 additional professional endorsements, including from a Nobel prize winner. Their paper noted that vulnerability to death from COVID-19 was over 1,000 times higher in vulnerable populations than among young people. For children, COVID-19 is less dangerous than many other harms, including influenza.
Thus, it made sense to protect vulnerable populations if anything more vigorously, while reopening schools, businesses, and restaurants with reasonable precautions. Both overall mortality and social harm could be protected until we reached herd immunity.
In a society based on reason and open inquiry, this proposal would at least have received serious consideration. Instead, the Trump-hating media erupted in withering denunciations and cancellations.
Worse, recently obtained emails reveal that our “follow the science” authorities intentionally thwarted the dissenting viewpoint. Then-director of the NIH Francis Collins wrote Anthony (“I am the Science”) Fauci that GBD seemed to be getting some attention. “There needs to be a quick and devastating takedown of its premises. Is it underway?”
Fauci answered in the affirmative. Soon after, he informed The Washington Post that GBD was a fringe operation. “This is not mainstream science. It’s dangerous.”
Several media outlets ran with criticisms by Fauci, who completed the cycle by citing their articles in his talking points. Facebook pitched in by censoring any references to GBD. It was the dreaded “misinformation.”
Focused Protection never got traction. But shutting down open dissent in favor of political agendas has produced tragic consequences. In spite of Fauci’s claim in October 2020 that the draconian remedies were temporary, when caseloads rose the next month, shutdowns were resumed.
Hard data is never available on the path not taken, but it’s undeniable that the costs of following the Fauci/Collins strategy were staggering: unbelievably enormous federal outlays, shattered businesses, untreated illnesses, suicides, and devastating educational achievement losses.
Let’s be smarter with omicron. Let’s vaccinate and medicate, protect the vulnerable but avoid panic and unnecessary disruptions in our lives.
The Great Barrington Declaration, the responses, and consequences are a reminder of the practical importance of free speech rights. Better decisions are made when all sides are heard out.
Devastating. That’s how it felt earlier this week when the Arizona Supreme Court upheld the trial court’s ruling in Arizona School Boards Association v. State of Arizona. This decision strikes down critical reforms contained in a series of Budget Reconciliation Bills passed by lawmakers and signed by Governor Ducey earlier this year.
Nearly $75 billion in federal COVID-19 funds was allocated to the State of Arizona, its local governments, businesses, and individuals between March 2020 and October 2021. Of that, more than $4.4 billion went to improper unemployment insurance claims because anti-fraud measures were not utilized by a state agency, according to a special report issued by the Arizona Auditor General.
The questionable payments by the Arizona Department of Economic Security were from federal funds provided through the CARES Act, one of six Congressional acts and one Presidential memorandum that resulted in $74.9 billion being allocated within Arizona for response and recovery efforts stemming from the pandemic.
For purposes of the special report, the term allocated refers only to funds set aside, not necessarily spent.
The payment of fraudulent claims from the federal COVID-19 funding is not the only concern raised by the Auditor General. Another is the potential future adverse impact caused by the fact the Arizona Department of Administration was 29 days late in submitting a required audit report to a federal audit clearinghouse.
“The late report submission was primarily because State agencies experienced personnel and resource challenges throughout the year responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, including administering the COVID-19 federal program monies and navigating their new requirements,” the report noted.
Federal agencies, the report notes, could “potentially” take action against the State and its three universities due to the late reporting.
The Auditor General’s report also highlights how the overall $74.9 million is split between $43.8 billion available directly to individuals, businesses, local governments, and other non-State programs while $31.1 billion in funds is allocated to the State of Arizona and its agencies.
Of the $43.8 billion in federal COVID-19 funding available directly to individuals, businesses, and local governments, a huge hunk ($18.3 billion) was allocated for individual and family assistance. Almost 95 percent of that has already been distributed in the form of various stimulus payments to individuals.
Another $18 billion is earmarked for business aid, most of which was paid out through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) and Economic Injury Disaster loans. The remaining $7.5 billion that was already allocated went to things like public health, transportation, and education (for a combined $4.3 billion) and $3.2 billion to local governments for varied purposes, including COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
The Auditor General’s report also took a close look at $6.3 billion spent or distributed from the State’s allocation between March 1, 2020 and June 30, 2020, the end of Fiscal Year 2020.
“We audited these monies as part of the annual compliance audit of federal monies the State spent and distributed, which we performed in accordance with State law and federal regulations, and in conjunction with our audit of the State’s financial statements,” according to the report, which noted the $6.3 billion was a small part of the overall $26.4 billion of various federal funds spent or distributed by the State of Arizona in FY2020.
Of the $6.3 billion, more than 84 percent ($5.3 billion) was for individual and family assistance, while $352 million was allocated for public health programs. There was also $32 million earmarked for education and another $643 million categorized in the Auditor General’s report as for “miscellaneous” usage.
The report also breaks down how the other $24.8 billion allocated to the State of Arizona and its agencies from July 2020 through October 2021 is designated, with the majority $13.1 billion (about 53 percent) again earmarked for individual and family assistance, including $7.1 billion for unemployment insurance benefits.
While most of the unemployment funding had to be spent by Sept. 6, some allocated funds can be spent as late of Sept. 30, 2025, according to the report.
The next largest chunk of COVID-19 funds to the Arizona state government is $5.7 billion for education, including $643.6 million of a direct allocation for the state’s three universities. Again, some of the fundings can be spent through September 2025.
Another $2.8 billion is categorized as “to be determined use” through Dec. 31, 2024. Examples of how those funds can be spent include COVID-19 mitigation efforts and infrastructure.
As to public health, there was $1.9 billion allocated to Arizona from July 2020 through October of this year. The main area of expenditure for these funds is for various COVID-19 “response.” The majority of that allocation does not have to be spent until July 31, 2024.
That leaves roughly $1.3 billion in miscellaneous funding to be spent on things such as transportation, community services, and business assistance. Much of that allocation can be spent as late as Dec. 31, 2024, according to the report.
Not included in the Auditor General’s report is an estimated $4.8 billion of federal COVID-19 related funding which the Arizona Joint Legislative Budget Committee believes was allocated to tribal governments located wholly or partially within Arizona’s geographical boundaries