To watch cable news or read a major daily newspaper these days, a foreigner visiting the United States would have a bleak outlook on the future of America. Unless of course, more people visited western Ohio. Obviously, my work in Congress involves travelling back and forth to fulfill my responsibilities in both Ohio and D.C. But every August, tradition dictates that Members stay home and spend more time with our neighbors and constituents. People love to refer to August as a “recess” from Congress, but this month-long work period is often one of the busiest parts of my year.

As the nation continues to adjust and adapt to life in a pandemic, it is more important than ever that America’s elected leaders understand how the policies imposed from Washington (many over my objections) affect the people who elected us. Perhaps most urgently, people have wanted to share their reactions to state executive orders that effectively closed our economy, deemed some activities essential and others non-essential, and threaten to further disrupt work, school, sports, and much more. In light of that and the related public health crisis, this August is the perfect opportunity to observe the impacts of CARES Act—the trillion-dollar coronavirus relief bill.
The urgency and sheer size of the bill meant that while the legislation created valuable resources, like the Paycheck Protection Program, it also contained problematic provisions like a flat $600/week federal unemployment benefit. As I’ve toured Ohio’s 8th District, I’ve seen the effects, both intended and unintended, of the CARES Act and heard from Ohioans about what this pandemic and this era of deep polarization has shown them. Already, I have a few takeaways that might not make nightly news, but will resonate with the people I represent in Congress.
Protecting paychecks is preferable to expanding unemployment insurance. As I’ve visited with groups and toured businesses, I’ve heard from both lenders and businesses that have participated in the Paycheck Protection Program. These potentially forgivable loans have enabled businesses to maintain payroll even as stay-at-home orders have threatened to shutter businesses.

At the same time, many people who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic have yet to return to work and it’s not because there aren’t jobs. Business owners with whom I’ve spoken to have stated it plainly: they can’t compete with the expanded unemployment insurance included in the CARES Act. If laid off employees are getting state unemployment and an extra $600 a week on top of that, they’re likely bringing home more in benefits than they would for going to work.

By paying Americans more to stay home than to return to work, the overly generous unemployment insurance has artificially slowed the economic recovery, created yet another demoralizing benefit cliff, and cost American taxpayers . And even though the $15 an hour benefit is more than some people make, in other cases, it doesn’t adequately cover the lost wages of skilled hourly laborers.

While the President, through his executive orders, has limited this additional federal benefit to $300 a week (or $7.50 per hour), a more reasonable course of action would cap this benefit at 75% of income so that government programs don’t stymie the recovery our economy so desperately needs.

Here in southwest Ohio, people know that government spending is untenable. Before the coronavirus hit the U.S., Congress was already spending money faster than it could find new things to tax. State and local budgets are already being slashed to account for the loss of business and income tax revenue. Ohio is fortunate to have both a balanced budget and a rainy-day fund. Persistent federal budget deficits, on the other hand, accelerate America’s path toward national bankruptcy.

Granted, for emergencies—such as this—people look to the federal government, but years and years of gross negligence on fiscal policy have put the United States in a situation where the only way to provide a safety net is to print money. And that’s what the Federal Reserve and the Treasury are currently doing. There is no lender, this money is simply being printed.

It may not be noticeable yet, but this path will undermine one of our nation’s great strengths: the U.S. dollar. A strong dollar means that other countries invest in the U.S. and that Americans enjoy the buying power of a strong and stable currency. By printing money and diluting our currency through different powers, the Federal Reserve is threatening the value of Americans’ hard-earned savings, undermining the buying power of current earnings, and weakening the U.S. dollar globally. Americans instinctively know printing money is not sustainable.

My final observation: Ohioans are proud of America, and lose respect for those who don’t respect America. Pundits and columnists sell ads and get clicks with articles and stories that boast of their disdain for the United States, its past sins, and those working to form “a more perfect union.” But as I’ve traveled Ohio, the constant refrain is: “we love our country.” Certainly, there are reforms we can make and improvements we should consider, but everyone I’ve spoken to shares ideas about how to improve everything from education, to commerce, to the criminal justice system, because they love America – not because the want to tear down and fundamentally remake America.

I agree with these patriotic Americans. I love this country with a soldier’s passion, having served then and now to defend America against all enemies, foreign and domestic. America is the greatest nation on Earth and while we aren’t perfect, America is worth defending, respecting, and improving.

I look forward to more visits in the 8th District so that I can take this feedback with me to Washington when Congress reconvenes. Congress needs more of these Ohio values in Washington, so that we can move forward with hope and confidence toward a more perfect Union.

This opinion piece appeared in the Hamilton Journal-News