Saving Washington: The case for relying on the feds

In 300 words, community leaders offer ideas to soften the economic blow caused by coronavirus.

people on steps outside Capitol Hill

Members of the House of Representatives walk down the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, March 27, 2020, after passing a coronavirus rescue package. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Chris Vance is a public policy consultant and the former chair of the Washington state Republican Party.

As a conservative, I spent decades railing against big government. But now is the time for big government. Really, really big government. A crisis as massive as the one spurred by the outbreak of the novel coronavirus can be met only through a top-down federal response and trillions of dollars in deficit spending. Why? The only entity that never runs out of money is the federal government. Only Washington, D.C., can keep society functioning while we all shelter in place. 

Certainly, there are actions that state and local governments can take to be helpful. But unlike the feds, state and local governments are restricted in their ability to spend by debt limits and balanced budget requirements. In fact, the cratering of sales tax receipts will add state and local governments to the long list of entities that need a federal bailout.

Throughout our history, during wars or economic crises, the ability of the federal government to spend whatever it takes has proved crucial. Even the nation’s leading deficit hawk, Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, agrees that big federal action is necessary. “This is a national emergency, and it is exactly the kind of time when we should borrow money as necessary,” she said. 

Congress recently passed its third COVID-19 response bill, a massive $2 trillion package that will cushion the blow for people, businesses and local governments. Good. Keep it coming for as long as this takes.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Chris Vance

Chris Vance

Chris Vance, a former Republican party chairman, is a senior fellow at the Niskanen Center.