By Solomon Chen, member of the Emerging Leaders Advisory Council
Stimulus. Historic. Trillion.
This past week those three words dominated news headlines as the House and Senate debated and ultimately passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act. At a hefty $2 trillion dollars, the CARES Act opens the purse of the federal government to revitalize a dying economy suffering from the effects of coronavirus. Even more federal help may be on the way; President Trump recently urged Congress to pass an additional $2 trillion dollar infrastructure bill as a “Phase 4” for economic recovery.
In the midst of such a public health and economic crisis, many have looked to the federal government for change. While there have been some dissenting voices about the scale and long-term economic effect of the bill, CARES still garnered a unanimous 96-0 decision in the Senate and overwhelming majority of support in the House. Despite the current political polarization, President Trump and former Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry joined in a shared condemnation of Rep. Thomas Massie (R-KY) regarding his delay of the legislative process by urging for a recorded vote. All parties seem mostly satisfied with the bill, but in the midst of all this agreement is something missing?
Even in the midst of a pandemic, conservatives should still pause and be skeptical of swift and expansive governmental change. This is not to say that government intervention is always inappropriate. The Federal Government is granted constitutional powers for emergencies. The CARES Act is undoubtedly an expansion of government influence, but it would be overly simplistic to decry such a bill only for its price tag without examining its actual positive and negative effects. A “big government” may sometimes be necessary for safety and national sovereignty.
However, just as our Founding Fathers debated in the Anti-Federalist and Federalist Papers so also should we think carefully about the government’s role in our everyday lives. Government, as an extension in many ways of human nature, is quick to gain power but reluctant to return it. At the core of conservatism is the Burkean belief that reckless sweeping change can destroy the very bonds that are essential for civil society to flourish. Limited government overreach is vital not just for its own sake but rather because it gives space for individuals and society to thrive.
It can be tempting in times of crisis to immediately look to the federal government for a solution. In the midst of countless zeroes on stimulus bills, take a pause to remember those bonds of civil society that can also offer solutions. Whether churches, neighborhoods, families, or schools, our institutions are currently being severely tested and strained. The government may be able to send a check, but it cannot replicate real rewarding relationships.