Building Bridges for People and Policy

Special Guests: Bob Bixby, Tori Gorman, Phil Smith, Dr. Mark Zandi, Kwanza Hall

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On the latest Facing the Future, I was joined by Concord Coalition Executive Director, Bob Bixby, Concord’s Policy Director, Tori Gorman, Concord’s National Field Director, Phil Smith, Dr. Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, and Kwanza Hall, Congressman for Georgia’s 5th District. We discussed economic trends, fiscal and monetary policy, what should be considered for the next COVID-19 relief package, as well as what it is like to serve in Congress and complete the term of legend and civil rights hero, the late Congressman John Lewis.


[Note: Portions of this week’s Facing the Future can be seen in the video clips posted below.]

On recent economic data and health trends, Zandi said, “Top of mind is the fragile recovery; the economy is struggling.”

Employment for the month of November showed a gain of 250,000 jobs.  Zandi said, “In a normal time, that would be OK, but given that we’re still down 10 million jobs from the pre-pandemic level and given all the trend lines – the raging pandemic and potential fading of any fiscal support, which suggests some job losses dead ahead and perhaps increases in unemployment which is already still very high – it’s pretty disconcerting.”

He was optimistic of where we would be this time next year due to pending vaccines and achieving “herd” immunity. But he agreed that a bridge was needed to get the economy to the other side of the pandemic, asserting that the economy needs another COVID-19 relief package from Congress.

“All support is now fading fast, and by the end of the year, going into the next, any remaining support will have expired,” Zandi added.

Zandi expressed concern over expiration of unemployment insurance benefits, expiration of rental assistance and the moratorium on evictions, as well as needed funding for testing, PPE, tracing, schools and more. He emphasized a need to focus on the human economic costs.

“The single most important role of government is to have our backs in times of crisis,” Zandi said.

“If we don’t get any support, I think we’re going back into what you might consider a recession,” he added. “This period would go down in history as a double-dip recession, a W-shaped economic outlook.”

Even still, Zandi thought it would take several years to get back to full employment. He estimated that it could take up roughly three years if there was no additional help from Congress beyond the package that is currently being discussed in Washington. For now, he said policymakers should be focused on providing quick relief to people and industries.

“In my view, speed here is much more important than size,” he said.

Zandi strongly rebuffed Modern Monetary Theory, which he said was as wrong as supply-side economics, but also argued that near-term budget deficits should be less of a focus than long-term deficits.

“We should be worried about deficits and debt, just not right now,” he said. “I do think we need to provide deficit-financed, fiscal support to get to the other side of the pandemic and give us a nice jumpstart to get back to full employment because if we don’t do that then I think our economy will go back into recession and the cost to the government will be even greater, our deficits and debt will be even larger.”

As we are approaching full employment, then we pivot to address our fiscal issues, he added, which would mean both spending restraint and tax increases.

As a word of warning, Zandi said it took us a long time after the Great Recession to get back to full employment. “We made a policy error,” he said. “We pivoted too quickly to try and address our fiscal problems coming out of the financial crisis; that delayed the recovery and it took us eight years to get back to what you might consider full employment.”

But he ended the segment suggesting that The Concord Coalition would continue to be a relevant voice in helping connect the dots for the public and policymakers on the challenges the nation will face if we fail to address our long-term fiscal issues.

Congressman Kwanza Hall joined the program to provide insight on his incredibly unique circumstance – having been elected to serve the remaining term of the late Congressman John Lewis – some of the key votes in which he is participating, and why it is important to encourage and engage in bipartisanship.

“There’s a lot of history in this, but I’m moving so fast,” Hall said. “Usually, onboarding for freshman Congressmen and women is probably two months; I’ve done it in two hours … and I had to get out there and get sworn in and do my job.”

“There are very significant measures in front of our country,” he added.

On important issues and key legislation, he said we have never seen our national debt this high, with the exception of WWII, the House is voting on or considering COVID-19 relief, military funding, a continuing resolution to keep the government operating, legislation on cannabis and more.

On encouraging and developing bipartisanship, Hall emphasized meeting an individual before you decide how you are going to feel about them. Meet people where they are, engage them head on, and look for areas of agreement, he said.

“A person like me is open to trying to be a bridge between people, but still, people have to be willing to treat people right,” Hall said. “When I see things, I call them out, but I still try to be available to listen to people because until you hear them, you can’t build the level of trust and rapport to even call them on a bad thing.”

With all the partisanship in our country and deep ideological divides, in the spirit of Congressman Hall’s words, be a bridge builder.

Hear more on Facing the Future. I host the program each week on WKXL, (N.H.), and it is also available via podcast. Join me and my guests as we discuss issues relating to national fiscal policy with budget experts, industry leaders and elected officials. Past broadcasts are available here. You can subscribe to the podcast on Spotify, Pandora, iTunes, Google Play Music or with an RSS feed. Follow Facing the Future on Facebook and watch videos from past episodes on The Concord Coalition YouTube channel.

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