SALT LAKE CITY — Utah’s only Democrat in Congress, Rep. Ben McAdams, said Monday it’s “inexcusable” that both parties can’t come together on a new COVID-19 relief package and warned the bickering in Washington is putting the nation’s economy at risk.
McAdams also declined to criticize President Donald Trump’s recently signed executive orders that include restoring some additional unemployment benefits, deferring payroll taxes and suspending student loan repayments as well as calling for extending eviction protections.
“I’m incredibly frustrated with the inability of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to find common ground while American people are suffering,” McAdams said during a virtual discussion of “Fiscal Responsibility, Transparency and Accountability during COVID-19,” part of the Sutherland Institute’s 2020 congressional series.
“We are putting at risk our economy and the stability of our economy. We’ve, I think, successfully so far kept the economy somewhat stable. Not to say there hasn’t been a lot of hardship and isn’t still a lot of hardship, but we’ve avoided a financial catastrophe,” the freshman congressman facing a tough reelection fight said.
Now, with congressional Democratic leaders and the White House at an impasse over a new relief package, McAdams said, “here we are, allowing once again partisanship to put at risk the health, the welfare of the American people and the stability of our economy. It is inexcusable that we sit here today without a bipartisan agreement.”
The president’s orders, signed on Saturday, have been widely viewed by Democrats and even some Republicans as exceeding the limits of his executive powers. But McAdams said Trump at least made an effort by bypassing the legislative branch.
“I’m never going to complain about efforts to try to extend relief and to manage this. So while I certainly have some criticism with how the president has handled this pandemic — I also have criticisms with how the House and the Senate have handled the pandemic — I’m not going to criticize someone making an effort,” McAdams said.
He said he’s heard from economists that the steps being taken by Trump through executive action won’t be sufficient so he’s putting pressure on all sides to make a deal and cautioned that no one can be “unreasonable” in the negotiations.
One of the key sticking points in the talks has been the size of the next stimulus package. The Democratic-controlled House passed a $3.4 trillion proposal in May that has been rejected by Republicans after already spending nearly $3 trillion in previous legislation.
“I hear many Democrats worrying that we aren’t spending enough to get through this pandemic,” McAdams said, adding he sees the situation differently, since whatever is spent today has long-term consequences, especially for Social Security and other entitlement programs.
“I worry about spending too much,” McAdams said. “It seems like the counterargument has been since some Democrats are worried that we’re not doing enough, therefore, let’s do everything, put everything in a bill, throw everything at a wall and see what sticks, without regard to the fiscal consequences for our decisions.”
McAdams focused on the growing deficit and the need for transparency in how relief funds are being used during much of the 45-minute program that included questions posed by the conservative think tank’s executive vice president, Aaron Taylor.
The congressman labeled himself an “economic conservative” and pointed out the first legislation he introduced after being elected in 2018 was a balanced budget amendment. He said the borrowing to keep the economy going during the coronavirus crisis is “largely appropriate” but is adding to what was already a trillion-dollar plus deficit.
Any additional spending must be related directly to the pandemic, McAdams said, not on “political wish lists” or efforts that help those who don’t need it — citing loans that went to celebrity clothing lines, sports teams and restaurant chains that were disclosed after he and others pushed for recipients to be made public.
McAdams said more needs to be done to track stimulus spending. He recalled his own bout with the deadly virus that left him hospitalized for eight days and said the federal government has let partisanship stand in the way of slowing the spread of COVID-19, although he called the state’s response good.
“We could have done much better. Our failings at the federal level have caused harm to the economy and hardship. Despite all that, Utah has a strong economic foundation, and I’m confident we will get through this. I recognize there are a lot of people that are afraid right now,” McAdams said.
His reelection bid against the winner of the June 30 Republican primary, Burgess Owens, a former NFL player and frequent Fox News guest, is anticipated to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the country. McAdams won the seat two years ago by less than 700 votes, defeating two-term GOP Rep. Mia Love.
McAdams launched his first TV commercial of the campaign Monday, a somber spot about the impacts of COVID-19, admonishing that “we need to come together and put our differences aside, rebuild our economy and our trust in each other” and calling for putting “people before party and principle before politics.”
Also Monday, the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund announced plans to spend an additional $2.3 million through November in Utah, part of another $45 million planned to be spent in 40 media markets nationwide, on top of $43 million booked in April.
The total potential expenditure in Utah is just over $3.1 million, and includes bookings for broadcast, cable and digital advertising as well as a share of more $6 million set aside by the political action committee for a program aimed at getting out the vote as states shift to vote by mail.
“The investments we’re making today are a second down payment in key races where we can make a real difference in the battle for the House,” said Dan Conston, president of the Republican Congressional Leadership Fund, adding the commitments put Democrats on the defense. “This reserve positions us well for the fall battle and it won’t be our last.”