Representative Steve Holt (R-Denison) joined The Iowa Standard’s Eye on Iowa podcast on Monday to talk about his thoughts on the government’s response to COVID-19. He said his thoughts on the situation have evolved.
Holt said the last month has been “frustrating.”
“It’s very frustrating not to be in session. It’s very frustrating not to be able to advance the policy that we were working on and worked very diligently on, a lot of good pieces of legislation that needs to be done, and I think it’s very frustrating from the perspective that we are the third branch of government, the legislative branch, and whether it was intended or not, we somewhat make ourselves irrelevant when we’re not in session and we’re sitting at home watching things happen,” he said.
When the legislature decided to pause the session, Holt said he was not a fan, but realized that there was no choice. Still, he would’ve preferred some way to stay in session and the legislature would be in a better position to monitor what is going on and be a larger part of discussions when decisions are made.
Early information put out about COVID-19 also had Holt skeptical. He said he wasn’t sold on the medical models because they’ve been “wildly inaccurate” in the past, and they have been this time as well.
“But as President Trump talked about it began to talk about it and declared the emergency that he declared, it was my conclusion that the President would not take the steps he was taking, which were clearly going to be very difficult for our economy, very difficult for small businesses, very difficult for our citizens and our nation. I did not believe that he would have advocated and taken those steps had he not believed the situation was very serious,” Holt said.
Holt expected it would be a matter of two or three weeks.
“I have become increasingly uncomfortable not only with the timeframe but also with the restrictions on liberty,” Holt said. “We are a free people, and as a free people, we must be a responsible people. And I see nothing in the bill of rights that says during a state of emergency such as this we don’t have the right to go to church and we don’t have the right of assembly and all of these things. So I have become increasingly concerned.
“I’m not sure that a number of the measures that have been taken by governors would pass constitutional muster. I think as Americans, as free people, we need to be bristling and deeply concerned about the restrictions that are being placed on our liberties.”
Holt believes Gov. Kim Reynolds has done her best to respect the constitution. Other governors, however, are clearly crossing the line.
One example of something that Holt believes should’ve been handled differently is the restrictions on churches.
“I actually think these things are unconstitutional. I just don’t think there’s a constitutional standard for closing churches,” Holt said. “They could’ve said stay 10 feet away. Every other chair has to be taped off or whatever. Far less restrictive and constitutional offensive measures than what have been taken.”
He also pondered if President Trump had business leaders, economic experts and other financial leaders in the room when listening to the medical experts.
“Folks have to remember, I don’t know if anybody’s thinking about this, but government gets its revenue from taxes. And taxes come from businesses and workers that are gainfully employed that are functioning and paying taxes,” he said. “And when we shut down a tremendous amount of our economy, we don’t have that revenue coming in anymore. So there’s going to be a moment, a tipping point where government will not have the resources to respond to what government itself has created in shutting everything down.
“So I’m deeply concerned on a number of levels.”
While the dashboards on the number of deaths and positive cases are appropriate, Holt said there are some missing factors. He said he has seen some statistics from the Great Depression that suggest an increase of 5,000-10,000 suicides per year if we enter into a severe recession or depression.
“Which I think is possible the longer we stay in this,” he said. “How many small businesses are never coming back? How many people are going to be unemployed? And how many services are government going to have to curtail or severely cut back because we simply do not have the revenue coming in that we had before. These have to also be part of the dashboard so to speak.
“There’s no such thing as zero risks in life. We take a risk every time we get up and get in the car. So I think we need to be thinking in terms of what are the consequences on the small businesses, what are the consequences to our economy as we continue to shut down. I think we have to consider the possibility of a severe recession or depression, which is rising every day that we continue to keep our economy closed.”
On the national level, Holt said not enough attention is being paid to the growing debt.
“We had $22 trillion debt before the emergency,” he said.
It is increasing $2-$4 trillion every 30 days.
“Exactly how long can we go on without government having the tax revenue and without peopl working again before this thing spirals to a point where it is beyond government’s ability to mitigate or control it?”