Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling BDN Agree to Disagree blogers. Gabor Degre | BDN Credit: Gabor Degre | BDN

Ethan: Phil, being the fiscal conservative that you are, would you have supported the recent stimulus packages?

Phil: You mean the $3 trillion that Congress borrowed to “rebuild” the greatest economy of your lifetime, right after they had disabled it?

Ethan: Why yes, yes I am.

Phil: I would not have voted to give free money to businesses like Ruth Chris Steak House, or institutions like your alma mater Harvard with its $40 billion endowment, while the self employed waited weeks for vitally needed support. I would have put the people first, not the companies.

Ethan: I am glad both gave the money back. I just wish Harvard had used it to reimburse me for some of that loan they made me take out all those years ago.

Phil: Don’t worry, Joe Biden has a plan for that. But honestly, Congress adds $3 trillion of debt onto future generations and you don’t see it as generational theft? 

Ethan: It isn’t generational theft. It’s a generational lifeboat. Even with this aid, recent projections say 100,000 businesses may never come back and peak real unemployment may hit 35%!

Phil: I’m hearing from business owners asking what sense it makes for the unemployed to receive more money than what they were making when they had a job? The average unemployed Mainer is now making almost 130 percent of what they were earning before the pandemic.

Ethan: God forbid someone barely scraping by gets a few extra bucks to help cover the health insurance they lost, keep up with credit card payments or stock up on essentials to keep their families safe and fed.

Phil: I don’t disagree (I said it), but what’s the incentive to go back to work if you make more on unemployment? And what about workers who ask why it is fair for someone not working to receive more than I do putting in 40 hours?

Ethan: Essential workers should have been paid time and half for risking their lives. But I doubt there are many who lost jobs who are going to say “thanks, but no thanks” if their employer calls. Before they know it, those unemployment benefits will be gone, and so will that job.

Phil: Only if your borrow-our-way-to-prosperity friends in Washington decide to turn off the spigot.

Ethan: Well, I hope they do, but to paraphrase US Sen. Lindsey Graham: Not even as we walk over the bodies of nearly 40 million unemployed will we extend extra help.

Phil: Except Pelosi just doubled down on that first $3 trillion, while Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris  are looking to give every adult American $2,000 a month. That equates to $96,000 a year for a family of four! Does your party’s welfare know no bounds of buying votes?

Ethan: The Kamala/Bernie plan is tied to the pandemic, so unless this national disaster goes on for nine more months, no household is getting $96,000. And if it does go on for another nine months, the national debt is the least of our worries. But hey, if Republicans want to block aid to Americans three months before Election Day, don’t let me stop you.

Phil: One of the biggest problems with Congress spending all that money was that the pig was already out of the barn. The U.S. federal debt was verging on $24 trillion before the vote, and that’s without including our unfunded entitlements like Medicare and Social Security!

Ethan: The “pig was already out of the barn?” I know I grew up in New York City, but I thought it was a “horse”?

Phil: “Horse,” “pig,” or “massive New York subway rat,” no lipstick will make our federal debt go away. We are on a path to owe more money as a percentage of GDP than we did after World War II.

Ethan: World War II spending brought us out of a depression. Just like our spending will need to do now.

Phil: World War II spending stopped fascism in the face of 70 million deaths. No one is projecting that we will lose close to that many here.

Ethan: No. But the US lost 400,000 people. We will lose half that many by August, and we may well eclipse it before Biden is up for re-election in 2024.

Phil: If Biden is up for re-election in 2024, that deficit will hit $50 trillion. That’s trillion, with a “t.”

Phil Harriman served as a town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth. Ethan Strimling served as mayor and state senator from Portland.