At the start of the year the U.S. economy was soaring, but now most everything has come to a government mandated halt which is rippling across the economy… which has been a shock for most lawmakers, including Wyoming Senator John Barrasso.
"There are inevitable surprises in life. And I'll tell you this has been one of the strangest and most devastating that we have faced, certainly in the lifetime of most Americans. It just shows you how fragile and quickly things can change," Barrasso said.
The fear of a looming Great Recession forced the Trump administration and lawmakers in both parties to come together and forge a $2 trillion compromise. The proposal includes more than a $1,000 payment to adults who make $75,000 a year or less, along with $500 per child. Barrasso says he'd rather everyone still be able to go to work, but that's impossible with a global pandemic spreading from coast to coast.
"Essentially, the government has shut down the country in an effort to fight the disease. It was necessary. Yes. And that's why I believe government needed to step up and step in as we did with this legislation, to make sure that the American people who enter the room we're out of work could be taken care of," Barrasso said.
Every state is guaranteed at least one and a quarter billion dollars, which Barrasso says is essential for Wyoming right now.
"Wyoming has been especially hit hard from the economic standpoint, with a significant slowdown in the world economy, oil prices have dropped significantly, much more than anybody would have predicted ever predicted, especially with what Russia and Saudi Arabia are doing as well to flood the market. Our economy has been hammered from an energy standpoint, as well as an agriculture standpoint. So the impact of the corona virus on Wyoming has been significant," Barrasso said.
The proposal did hit a last-minute snag in the Senate. A handful of conservatives feared the proposal would incentivize some lower income workers to quit their jobs in order to receive more generous unemployment benefits than they usually get in their normal paychecks. Here's South Carolina Republican Senator Tim Scott.
"We cannot encourage people to make more money in unemployment than they do in employment," Scott said.
Both Barrasso and Wyoming senior Senator Mike Enzi ended up supporting that effort, but it failed by a 48 to 48 tie. But the final package won both of their support. And Enzi is the budget chairman who is constantly beating the drum about the need for fiscal discipline because of the nation's more than twenty trillion-dollar debt. Still, Enzi says the economy needs this $2 trillion infusion right now.
"We were encouraging businesses to keep their employees and have them for when this ends and goes back to normal they'll already have the trained employees that they need. And the employees will have been able to survive this period of what's essentially government forced shut down," Enzi said.
And Enzi says he didn't take his vote lightly.
"Well, every time anybody mentions some benefit of any kind, I started doing calculations as the budget chairman on how much that's going to be and how we're ever going to pay it back. But this is a bonafide crisis and we can save money by spending some money now I think," Enzi said.
Enzi says even though Wyoming hasn't been hit with a wave of the COVID-19 virus yet, that doesn't mean state officials and the public can let down their guard.
"The big cities are getting hit harder and consequently they got more money for coronavirus problems. But we have to be really careful in Wyoming. We haven't had it hit yet. And it shouldn't hit us as hard as other places because we do have fewer people, we do have more room to maintain separation," Enzi said.
He noted that some fiscal conservatives oppose the bill, but he said they need to hold their noses and support it.
"It's an employee retention bill. And I thought it was the key piece of the of the whole legislation. Even if people have to be self-quarantined, their pay could continue. And the business could borrow and on a very quick loan through bank community banks and small business officers and things like that in a hurry to be able to continue to pay their employees so they didn't have to lay them off. So that meant to put them on unemployment and have them lose their health insurance," Enzi said.
There's already talk of Congress needing to pass a fourth stimulus bill in the coming weeks and months, which is giving Wyoming lawmakers a little pause because they want to see the impact of this historic $2 trillion infusion into the economy first.