Phil Harriman (left) and Ethan Strimling (right). Credit: Gabor Degre / BDN

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Phil: Mr. Mayor, now that Republicans failed to pass a “skinny stimulus,” after Democrats failed to pass a “fat stimulus,” creating yet another example of how difficult legislating is (which is exactly what the Constitution intended), how about we show how bipartisanship is supposed to work?

Ethan: Sure. But just to be clear, the Democrats got their stimulus through the House, whereas Republicans in the Senate failed.

Phil: Only because in the Senate you need 60 votes to move legislation forward.

Ethan: I would be happy to debate getting rid of the filibuster.

Phil: Another column.

Ethan: OK, first up, what’s the total cost we are negotiating toward? Democrats passed something at $3 trillion, Republicans started at $1 trillion. Shall we simply split the difference?

Phil: That’s like saying you run a marathon and I’ll run the 100-yard dash. What’s the outcome to measure success? We are $2 trillion apart, so let’s prioritize what we think will work over the next six months?

Ethan:That works.

Phil: Top priority for me is another $200 billion for the Payroll Protection Program, $50 billion for COVID prevention, $100 billion for schools targeted mostly to those that are attempting in-person classrooms, $50 billion in funds for nursing homes to institute better protections and $300 billion for another round of $1,200 stimulus checks. 

Ethan: I can live with those. On PPP however, the funds need to go to small businesses that provide their employees with full health and retirement benefits.

Phil: Some companies who received PPP didn’t need it to survive, while others have limped along still fearing they will fail. Unless the parameters you suggest are part of the new aid, that will happen again. I agree with you. Yes, I said it.

Ethan: Wow, you are a statesman. Can we agree on what a “small business” is? 

Phil: Three hundred employees is how Senate Republican defined it, but that seems pretty big to me. How about 50 employees or less?

Ethan: Deal. 

Phil: OK, I covered $750 billion of our package. That leaves you with $250 billion. Have at it!

Ethan: Ha! Here’s what I need: immediate and retroactive renewal of the $600 a week in enhanced unemployment benefits through the end of the year (around $250 billion) and a trillion dollars in aid to states and municipalities to deal with their decimated budgets.

Phil: Whoa! You just combined two very different policy statements. The first is to prop up individuals, the second is to prop up bloated governments. Let’s start with unemployment. I understand the need to get more money into the hands of the unemployed, but $600 a week, I believe, creates a disincentive for people to go back to work. When you add this to the maximum an unemployed worker can get in Maine, many Mainers are making more than they earned when working.

Ethan: That doesn’t take into account lost benefits and side wages many earn, but more importantly, there are 70,000 Mainers looking for work and about 14,000 available jobs. You can’t disincentivize someone from a job that doesn’t exist.

Phil: That’s why I can support the full $600 for a limited run, as long as it drops as the economy starts coming back. 

Ethan: Tell you what, if you make it retroactive to Aug. 1, I can agree to $600 per week through Oct. 15, with it dropping by $100 a month after that. Then, just in time for the holidays, your party can be responsible for it being only $300 a week.

Phil: We are used to having to be the adults in the room.

Ethan: More like the Grinches.

Phil: On the trillion in aid to states and municipalities, I don’t like bailing them out, as everyone needs to learn to live within their means. However, if you are willing to restrict it so that the money can’t pay for past largesse or not properly funding pension promises, for example, I can live with $750 billion.

Ethan: Well, if you are willing to say that none of it can be used to pay for permanent tax cuts, I can live with $800 billion.

Phil: Deal.

Ethan: So, lets see. We have $850 billion for state/municipal aid, $250 billion for unemployment, $300 billion for stimulus checks to families, $250 billion for PPP, $100 billion for schools. And $100 billion in COVID/nursing home protections. That comes to $1.75 trillion. Not bad.

Phil: You see folks, that’s how you build a compromise.

Ethan: Now, can I interest you in $100 billion to shore up voting by mail?

Phil: Unless you are willing to support a balanced budget amendment, don’t push your luck.

Phil Harriman, a former town councilor and state senator from Yarmouth, is the founding partner of Lebel & Harriman, a financial services firm. Ethan Strimling, a former mayor and state senator from Portland, is the president of Swing Hard. Turn Left, which promotes progressive policy at the local, state and national levels.