GOP Fiscal Policies Are Deadly During a Pandemic

Imagine what would have happened if the GOP had successfully passed a balanced budget amendment.

Journalist George Chidi has come up with another reason why Georgia’s governor is so intent on sending some people back to work: at the going rate, the state will run out of money for unemployment claims shortly.

The state is staring at one million unemployment applications. It probably cannot pay those over six months. The unemployment fund has a reserve of about $2.6 billion. Last week it paid out about $42 million — which is about three times as much as it usually does. That figure will double in two weeks, give or take. Maybe more.

At that rate, the fund is empty in about 28 weeks. Probably less.

If the governor ends his restrictions for some businesses, employees will no longer qualify for unemployment benefits. In the end, it all comes down to a casual disregard for some lives.

“Gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians, their respective schools & massage therapists.”

Not banks. Not software firms. Not factories. Not schools.

It is no coincidence that the businesses on this list are staffed by relatively poor people. Because that’s who he wants off the unemployment rolls. And if they die … well, they’re mostly black people, or Asian, and poor, and an acceptable political loss for a Republican governor.

In terms of alternatives, Governor Kemp wouldn’t simply face a Republican backlash if he raised taxes. Like many states, Georgia passed a constitutional limit on taxes of 6 percent. Chidi also notes that Georgia law prohibits the state from borrowing more than 5 percent of its previous-year revenue. That would leave Kemp with only one other option.

In the end, it appears that Kemp would rather risk people’s lives than deal with the straightjacket these Republican policies have placed on the state. One has to wonder how many of the other southern governors who have joined in a pact to open their state’s economies as soon as possible are facing exactly the same thing.

All of this reminded me that Republicans have long supported the notion of a federal balanced budget amendment. They have been making half-hearted attempts to pass one since the 1970s when Carter was president. The most recent came two years ago, just days after a budget was passed and the CBO reported that deficit spending would increase by $11.7 trillion over the next 10 years. Of course, it was all a show for the folks back home, because such an amendment would require a three-fifths vote in both the House and Senate. Even with Republican majorities, that wasn’t going to happen.

But now would be a good time to imagine what would have happened if Republicans had been successful. Not only would current safety net programs be jeopardized, but all of the funding passed by Congress in the last few months to deal with both the pandemic and its economic consequences would also have been impossible. Of course, for conservatives who have always wanted to decimate this country’s social safety net, that would be a feature, not a bug.

Support the Washington Monthly and get a FREE subscription

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.