President Donald Trump has so much on his plate right now, it’s difficult to see how he prioritizes the actions he must take for the country’s good. There’s so much going on in so many different areas it’s hard to recall any president in recent memory having to face so much at any one time at any one time.
All presidents must deal with crises. How they lead is part of the way we judge their fitness for office. And there are a lot of folks who say his leadership lately has been lacking as the nation deals with the novel coronavirus.
That’s remarkably ungenerous. The president mobilized the federal government and private industry to respond in ways not seen in decades. It’s impossible to be certain but is nonetheless highly likely the interventions he led produced faster testing on a broader scale, more ventilators than needed, and helped keep the spread of COVID-19 under control.
We may never know. All the models produced by the so-called public health experts working in the smart institutions were way off, even when early-stage interventions are accounted for. Meanwhile, as the result of actions taken by many of the nation’s governors, mostly in blue states, the U.S. economy tanked, a record number of jobs were lost in a single month, and Congress spent so much money on relief that might not even have been necessary it will take at least a decade of above-average economic growth to recover.
For the immediate future, President Trump would be both politically smart and doing the best thing for the country if he focused on measures to get the economy open and off its back. Businesses need to reopen. Lockdowns, if they are needed again (if a still-at-this-point hypothetical second wave hits), need to be localized, targeted, and well thought out. People need to get back to work, pay down their debt, and start saving again.
Several steps can be taken to help bring about the V-shaped recovery most everyone is hoping for. There are lots of positive indicators in the economy that its possible. Every policy decision from now until at least the end of summer ought to be taken specifically to enhance the possibility that will occur.
Just as the president was right to postpone tax filings and payments from April 15 to July at the height of the crisis, he would be right to have Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin tell the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to postpone the payment of those taxes until sometime in 2021.
The economy has just started showing signs of life. Taking $1 trillion out of it – which is what it would be if all the federal personal and corporate income taxes, estimated payments for the self-employed, federal excise taxes, the taxes paid by job-creating small businesses, and the outstanding balance due on returns from prior years – would almost assuredly plunge it back into a recession and push the recovery off by months.
The National Bureau of Economic Research says the recession caused by the lockdowns resulting from the coronavirus panic started in February. The NBER – and they’re the ones who get to make the decision – called it steep but short-lived. July 2020 should be a month of recovery because of strong, perhaps stronger than normal, economic activity. But that only happens if people are engaged in productive activity, buying and selling goods and services in the marketplace rather than sending Uncle Sam back a good chunk of the so-called stimulus.
Several prominent economists have endorsed this idea as being curative. Influential political groups including the National Taxpayers Union and Americans for Tax Reform have also signed on. The president and Secretary Mnuchin have it within their power to make this happen. They should order it be done with all dispatch. Certainty is important as businesses plan what to do next, whether to hire or fire, whether to stay open or close, and whether to expand. Knowing that the taxes due would not have to be paid until sometime early next year gives them that much more time to use their available cash to put people back to work. Making America Great and Keeping America Great can only be accomplished if America is working.
Peter Roff is a former national political reporter for United Press International and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report. He is affiliated with several Washington-based think tanks and appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network.
He can be reached by email at RoffColumns@GMAIL.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.