Coronavirus Bills Shouldn't Be Elizabeth Warren Wish Lists

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As Congress and the Administration continue to debate policy responses to the challenges Americans face because of the novel coronavirus, some participants in the conversation have been more helpful than others. One way in which some elected officials have contributed unhelpfully has been to use the crisis as an opportunity to push their unrelated pet policy goals. A global health pandemic and the resultant economic downturn are no place for such ideologically-motivated hostage-taking. 

The highest-profile offender in this sense has been Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who has signalled her opposition to economic relief funds needed to protect Americans’ jobs unless she is allowed to use the bill as a vehicle for some of her longstanding policy goals — never mind the fact that these goals are mostly unrelated to the unique crisis the country faces. 

Warren has a list of eight conditions she wishes to press on any businesses seeking federal aid. Not all these conditions are complete non sequiturs, such as her proposed requirement that companies use funds provided to maintain payroll and keep employees employed. Unfortunately, that cannot be said about most of her proposals. 

One condition that Warren attempts to put in place is a requirement that businesses receiving federal aid must institute a $15/hour minimum wage by one year after the national emergency is declared over. Warren not only expects businesses to transition to a $15/hour minimum wage over a drastically shorter time period than most minimum wage increases of that magnitude require, but she expects them to do it shortly after the end of an economic crisis. In other words, it’s a good way to make sure that workers whose jobs are secured through federal aid lose those jobs after the immediate crisis ends. 

Another condition Warren would set on federal aid to businesses would be to prohibit stock buybacks. Another favorite bugaboo of Warren’s, businesses engage in stock buybacks when they run out of productive investments to make. Stock buybacks actually serve as the corporate equivalent of putting money in the bank — increasing the business’s capacity to sell shares in the future when investment funds are needed. Warren effectively wishes to restrict the tools businesses have to set up “rainy-day funds.”  

The rest of Warren’s proposals are no more relevant to the situation at hand. Other conditions that she seeks to impose include a requirement to set aside at least one seat on boards of directors for a worker-elected representative, and a requirement that corporations receive shareholder approval for “political expenditures.”  

Regardless of one’s opinion of the merits of these proposals, they are highly ideological and have little to no relevance to the crisis at hand. Attempting to condition federal funds needed to keep Americans employed during this highly unusual situation on Elizabeth Warren’s pet policy projects is no less absurd than if Republicans held up aid to state Medicaid programs until Democrats agreed to make full expensing permanent. 

Once this crisis has subsided, legislators can retreat to their corners and come back to fight over the many policy disagreements that animate them. But Senator Warren should understand that there is a time to push an ideological agenda, and a time to set such polarizing concerns aside to combat a crisis. In the face of an international pandemic and national health emergency, it’s the latter. 

Andrew Wilford is a policy analyst with the National Taxpayers Union Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to tax policy research and education at all levels of government. 

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