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Congressman Steve Scalise, left, and Governor John Bel Edwards visit before a town hall meeting with President Donald Trump during a town hall meeting on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2020, in Lake Charles, Louisiana.

The first four historic coronavirus relief bills totaled about $3 trillion. The United States must borrow the funds which didn’t seem to bother Congress. They were unified trying to invigorate the economy depressed by coronavirus closures, layoffs, and fighting the pandemic.

The last bill passed and signed into law was in late March. Six weeks later, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif, unveiled and passed out of the House an 1,815-page, $3.4 trillion HEROES Act which just sat in the Senate.

Then in July, the Senate parlayed with its HEALS Act at about $1 trillion. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump Administration could support $1.5 trillion. Pelosi countered with $2.2 trillion.

The strategy seemed to be they would meet somewhere in the middle. Nothing got done.

Before moving on with this poker game, assuming you have no concept of how much a trillion dollars is, some comparisons will help put the numbers in perspective.

For instance, total U.S. national debt is currently $26.7 trillion. That number may be hard to comprehend, think $26,700 billions or $26,700,000 millions. Many generations of family and friends will be making payments.

Consider the gross domestic product of the U.S. in 2019 was $21.4 trillion. We owe substantially more than all the companies and people in the U.S. produced in goods and services last year, which was a pretty good year. The USA hasn’t owed more than its GDP since World War II.

And finally, the U.S. budget for next year (FY2021) is $4.829 trillion but estimates are only $3.863 trillion in revenue — therefore, nearly a $1 trillion deficit, which means more borrowing.

Think about how bad things are by removing the word trillion, substitute thousand, then replace the period with a comma. It’s now your family checking account.

So you plan to get your family out of debt by borrowing more money. If you are not able to pay your regular bills because income is 21% short, who will lend you the money, at what rate, and how will you ever pay it back?

Enter Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, who tried to pass a “skinny” stimulus package of about $300 billion ($650 billion spending minus $350 billion repurposed funds = “skinny” since it’s a lot less than HEALS $1 trillion).

McConnell got a majority of the Senate with 52 Republican votes, but not a single Democrat. The bill needed 60 votes to avoid a filibuster.

Supposedly, there was agreement on kids in school ($105 billion for schools and colleges), replenishing the popular Paycheck Protection Program out of money ($258 billion), and covering supplemental unemployment insurance another 6 months.

Some big items in the “skinny” bill the Senate Democrats voted against: extending supplemental unemployment benefits to Dec. 27 at $300 per week; continuing the Paycheck Protection Program including second loans for small businesses hardest hit; forgiving a $10 billion loan to the U.S. Postal Service; adding Back to Work Child Care Grants; barring certain lawsuits due to COVID-19, thus offering liability protections for employers, schools, and health care providers.

What wasn’t in the “skinny”: a second round of stimulus checks for all households, and additional funding for state and local governments.

Pelosi is trying to get $500 billion to $1 trillion to bail out failed state governments like New York, California and Illinois. (Not a COVID-19 issue.) Also, she’s trying to force states to adopt a California-type voting law that nullifies picture-ID requirement and forces each state to mail ballots to every person on the rolls, thus guaranteeing millions of illegal ballots floating around.

Plus, she wants to bump the enhanced unemployment insurance back up to $600 per week. Back in March, two-thirds of the people receiving it made more money staying home than they made working before COVID.

Can our delegation help?

Louisiana is a small delegation with only six members in the House. Yet, two members are in House leadership.

Steve Scalise is Republican whip and Cedric Richmond is assistant to the majority whip, key players in negotiations. They served together in the Louisiana Legislature and are friends on and off the baseball field.

Scalise and Richmond probably have a better idea of where the middle is to get a deal done than folks from different states and different parties who don’t trust or like each other.

Correction: Last week’s column stated the U.S. Postal Service will be closed Election Day. It will remain open.

Email Garey Forster at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.

Our Views: An extension, at some level, of unemployment grants is needed


Garey Forster is former chairman of the Labor and Industry Committee in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a former Louisiana Secretary of Labor. His column runs weekly. Email him at Garey.Forster@gmail.com.