Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a member of President Donald Trump’s congressional task force on economic recovery, joins The Daily Signal Podcast to discuss the economy’s devastation by the coronavirus and how America should get back to work. The House Freedom Caucus chairman talks about how the nation should balance the contagiousness of COVID-19 with the economic damage, what might happen if the country’s reopening is delayed too long, and technology to track those who are infected. Read the lightly edited transcript, pasted below, or listen to the podcast:
We also cover these stories:
- Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is the latest site for a massive protest over coronavirus lockdowns.
- The U.S. continues increased travel restrictions with Mexico and Canada.
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says the federal government should give essential workers a 50% bonus.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Congressman Andy Biggs of Arizona. Congressman Biggs, It’s great to have you again on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Rep. Andy Biggs: Rachel, it’s good to be with you.
Del Guidice: Well, it’s great to have you with us. You recently had an op-ed, Congressman Biggs, in the Washington Examiner talking about how coronavirus has taken a toll on the American economy due to the amount of jobs that have been basically shut down right now. What kind of impact is this having and will it have on the country?
Biggs: Well, you’re seriously almost at Depression-era levels of unemployment in this country, and so that causes enormous economic stress in families and individual lives, and so you’re going to deal with those pathologies that arise because of that.
Then on the other hand, you’ve got people whose pensions and retirement are in the market, and those markets, as you know, have taken a beating, and so you’ve had a loss of that type of savings.
Then you also have people who have gone with … some kind of real estate investments, and those are going to play out negatively in the long term as well, because as businesses shut down, there’s no one to pay the rent to the landlords. Landlords then can’t pay the mortgage on that property.
So you have a tremendous cascading effect going on, and it can be very difficult to get yourselves out of this, particularly if we’re going to remain closed. … There are people who are advocating staying closed a long time, until no one could possibly contract the coronavirus, and that’s really dangerous to the economy and to the physical and mental health of Americans.
Del Guidice: Yeah. That’s such a good point. Well, something that Democrats are pushing right now is looking at sending checks of $2,000 a month to Americans until the economy hits pre-coronavirus levels. Do you think that their thought on that is an appropriate response?
Biggs: No. I don’t really like that thought. What it does is it furthers dependence on the federal government, and quite frankly, everything we’re spending now, we don’t even have the money for now. But then on the other hand, if you’re going to send out a couple trillion dollars every few weeks, it might be less expensive, quite frankly, to just do that. Give everybody $2,000 bucks. …
Even if you were doing that—let’s just say everybody’s now an Andrew Yang or Andrew Wang guy. Even if you’re doing that, you do not restore the economy. You do not create incentive. You actually devalue the currency, which will result in inflation.
It’s just wrongheaded … to think that that’s the way you’re going to solve it. Just like to think that we can have $4, $5, $6, $7, $8 trillion in structural deficit this year without creating inflationary pressures on the other side.
Del Guidice: President [Donald] Trump said last week that he wants to reopen America as soon as May 1, but that he would leave it up to states’ governors to decide when to open their state. How do you think states should attempt to reopen?
Biggs: I appreciate what President Trump said because I do think it’s the states that have to be in charge of their own reopening, and I think states really need to reopen the soonest they possibly can, which, for me, in many places, is going to be yesterday.
… The first thing they should do is they should make sure that their hospitals are set and ready to go, and then allow each hospital to make the determination whether they’re going to get back to elective surgeries.
That’s why you’re seeing rural hospitals under incredible stress and duress under this time, because their main revenue source has been curtailed completely. Let them come back on. Let’s not further emasculate the medical care facilities in this country.
The second thing is I would say you just open up and counsel people to follow the guidelines with regard to social distancing and limiting the spread of the virus.
At the same time, you need to target your hot spots, like assisted living facilities, and make sure that the people who are treating them—like first responders, elderly care workers, and medical care workers—are getting tested more often so we’re not carrying the disease. It’s not going through them into the most vulnerable populations.
Del Guidice: You just talked about the needs for hospitals to make sure that they’re ready before everything is reopened again. But what would you say to some Americans, we’ve seen people in mainstream outlets talking about how afraid people are to go back to work because they don’t want to be exposed to COVID, but then balancing that with the reality that we do need to get back to work to make sure our economy doesn’t get worse?
Biggs: Well, I appreciate that. I understand because of some of the statements that are made and repeated by the mainstream media, the left-stream media, that it creates and engenders fear and panic, and that is important, and we want to address that, but that’s where I say you’ve got to make sure that you’re set and ready to go.
For instance, in Arizona last week we were at 266 cases statewide, then it went to 230, and then by the end of the week you were down another 40 or 50 cases down to 190, 188. So you’ve got to get that information out.
You also have to talk about the people who actually have been cured. You also have to talk about the test rate, and you also have to talk about the declining case fatality rate, because if not, then if you start moving toward shutting down your economy whenever anybody’s afraid they’re going to get sick, guess what? Every year we have a flu epidemic where it infects 30 to 40 million people. We hospitalize well over half a million, sometimes closer to a million people, and we have a case fatality rate of multiple tens of thousands. We realize that we operate that way.
So I would just say we’re going to emphasize good social hygienic practices, but if you can go to the grocery store, to your restaurant and get takeout food, if you can go to a big box store, a hardware store to get stuff these people have claimed are essential, guess what? You could probably open up a furniture store, bookstore, some other retailer and they can follow the same guidelines and we’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.
Del Guidice: On that note, looking at a slightly different angle, many Americans are frustrated by the increased amount of government influence in their lives during this time.
For example, there was an incidence in Mississippi [where] some churchgoers were ticketed $500 after they attended a drive-in church service for Easter. Is this going too far?
Biggs: Oh, yeah. It’s way too far. These governments are acting like petty tyrants. The reality is, the constitutional recognized and protected rights do not dissipate because of a crisis, epidemic, whatever. We still have those rights.
If you’re going to abrogate those rights, you must do so in the least restrictive way possible. You must tailor everything very narrowly. And they didn’t do that here.
So, if you’re going to let liquor stores, maybe the marijuana dispensary, stay open, if you’re going to let restaurants stay open, then why can’t you have a drive-in church service or a church service where everyone has some form of PPE [personal protective equipment] on and is social distancing?
This notion that you’re going to curtail religious liberty or associational liberty or any other freedom of speech … Imagine if the cameras were there, the media was there, which they go to these things, and they were basically shut down because they weren’t following social distancing guidelines. Well, you’d never hear the end of it. So why is it OK with religious liberty?
Del Guidice: Congressman Biggs, you’re part of the president’s congressional economic task force recovery program. What does this work of the task force look like?
Biggs: What we’re doing is we’re trying to put together ideas [for] the president about how to incentivize—this is my role, this is what I view my role as being—the states to get going and opening these businesses and the economy in their states. And that’s what I’m doing.
It’s a lot of what we’re talking about now with maybe a few more specifics thrown in, and we were debating that.
And I’m hopeful, I’m just hopeful that the American people, which you’re starting to see, Rachel, stand up and make claim on their rights, making claim for the economy, understanding that they don’t want to spread a virus, but what they also don’t want to do is lose life savings or lose their employment. And these are small business owners that want to get back to work.
That’s what I’m trying to emphasize, and the president. I’m trying to give anecdotal stories of folks that are losing their businesses to the administration.
Del Guidice: Speaking of your home state of Arizona, how have Arizonans been affected by the coronavirus lockdown?
Biggs: Well, this morning, early, a medical group told me, they sent me information telling me that they had basically reduced salaries enormously in order to try to keep their employees on. They basically have gone from maybe a month or two backlog in visits to same-day visits, because that’s how few people come in anymore.
I talk to them. I talk to builders, home builders, big industry in Arizona. They’ve got enough in their pipeline the last three months, but when you get four or five months out, there will be no pipeline because nobody’s buying houses now.
One company told me they went from over 100 houses in March, but they’re down to a negative seven in April. Why? Because people are canceling contracts, because they no longer feel they can afford it.
It has had a tremendous impact on the economy here, and quite frankly, we’ve seen that all around the country as I’ve talked to people from all over the country.
Del Guidice: So if opening up is delayed further for some reason, whether it’s Democrats in Congress, who knows, or if governors of various states decide that they really want to take it extremely slow, what could that look like on a whole, economically, for the whole country, if this happens at a glacial pace?
Biggs: If it happens, my opinion is for every couple of days you delay here, you foreclose the ability to keep the foundation of the economy stronger. Because don’t forget, just six weeks ago, … the foundation of this economy was very strong, and people want to open up and get back to work, but a couple things.
No. 1, if you don’t get open this week and get people back to work, and even if you do, because it’ll take a while to sort this thing out, you’re going to probably add 3 to 5 million more people on your unemployment rolls this week. Once you do that, you’re going to be pushing 25 to 30 million. That’s Depression-level unemployment.
You’re going to see banks have difficulties in the long run because so many commercial and residential landlords, they have debt to banks and other financial institutions and investment partnerships.
And guess what? They’re not collecting rent. That means that they can’t turn around and pay their mortgage. That means that the bank is going to have to eat that or sit on that.
So you’re going to see this thing is going to cascade through for quite some time. We stopped on a dime, but it’ll be very difficult to start it up on a dime. You’ll see people who start getting back to work, but it will actually take some time to sort through all the cascading effects that will be a result of what we’ve done to the economy.
Del Guidice: When America does, in fact, start to get back to work, what do you think the new normal, so to speak, might look like?
Biggs: I think and I pray that the new normal is less regulation, fewer taxes, because Congress is going to have to step in and provide those kind of incentives to make sure that these businesses can open up.
I think we’re going to see, at least for a period of time, people wearing PPE, trying to socially distance as we work through this, and the new normal will be a lot more in the way of teleworking, telecommuting, conference calls, those types of things that I think people have gone to.
But I mean, you just can’t do that in every business, and the new normal has got to be working as hard as we can to get government out of the way and to get these businesses open.
I think too often what we’re seeing now, Rachel, is that everybody’s going to the government asking for the solution, and so what’s happening is the national government is arrogating planning and power to itself, and the lesson we should be learning here is that our economy is so complex that, truly, it’s the markets that are the most efficient way of governing an economy, not government itself.
Del Guidice: Yeah. Congressmen, as you alluded to, some states are asking for bailouts from the federal government during the pandemic. What do you think of all these requests that we’re starting to see?
Biggs: First of all, understand this: We gave $200 billion just a couple weeks ago, and then we’ve given right around a trillion dollars in money out to their residents, their businesses, etc.
What we have seen, though, is that these governors have taken a lot of authority onto themselves. They’ve shut down businesses and the economy. As if this wouldn’t happen and they couldn’t foresee this, there’s a cascading effect where they’re not going to get the tax revenue that they normally would get.
So they say, “Well, OK, we’re down because of the virus.” No, you’re down because of the bad economic policies that you guys put in place with regard to your desire to handle the virus in the way you did. Well, that’s your choice.
I think this is an opportunity, it’s a crossroads for us to say, “The states, you should be responsible for yourselves.”
We should get back to a new federalism where the states take care of that, and the federal government should not be bailing out states and local jurisdictions for people like [California] Gov. Gavin Newsom to say, “OK, we’re going to give every illegal alien in the state $500,” or “$1,000,” whatever that is, … as if they have money, when they need a bailout themselves.
Del Guidice: Lastly, congressman, there’s been a lot of talk about using technology to track people who have come down with coronavirus. What’s your perspective on this that we’re starting to see across the country? People are starting to talk about this.
Biggs: You’re seeing everything with the tracing that they want, with the cards that they want people to carry, to right now drones—where they want to have drones to get out there to see if you’re violating some kind of social distance policies.
This is big brother. This is “1984.” This is “Brave New World.” This is “Animal Farm.” This is not the United States of America.
That should not ever happen. We don’t do that with the flu. We should recognize that that is an abrogation of rights, and I hope my colleagues in Congress would join me in fighting that.
Del Guidice: Thank you for joining The Daily Signal Podcast, Congressman Biggs. It’s been a pleasure to have you on.
Biggs: Thanks, Rachel. Always good to be with you.
Del Guidice: Thanks, Congressman.
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