On COVID aid, Democrat Ben McAdams praises Mitt Romney — and declines to criticize Trump

(Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo) In this April, 29, 2020, file photo, Congressman Ben McAdams, D-Utah, holds a press conference on Midvale City's Main Street as he calls for the Treasury Department and the Small Business Administration to release the complete list of who has received the nearly $700 billion in taxpayer-funded loans. On Monday, McAdams praised Sen. Mitt Romney's attempt to find common ground on a new relief package.

As he outlined what future COVID-19 aid should look like, Democratic Utah Rep. Ben McAdams sometimes sounded Monday a lot like Republican Sen. Mitt Romney — and even praised Romney by name for trying to break partisan stalemates in Washington.

On top of that, the moderate Democrat who is in a close race in a swing district also refused to criticize President Donald Trump for his weekend executive orders on pandemic aid, even as Utah Republican Rep. John Curtis lashed out at the president.

McAdams actions occurred during an online speech to the conservative Sutherland Institute.

About Romney, McAdams said, “I would once again applaud Senator Romney for putting forward time and again … multiple offers of compromise where we might be able to find common ground.”

He added, “From what I’ve seen, those offers have fallen on deaf ears, both Republican and Democrat. And it’s inexcusable. We’ve got to come together.”

McAdams also noted that he helped to introduce a House version of a Romney bill that would order Congress to start steps aimed at saving Social Security and Medicare as the national debt increases to help fight the pandemic’s effects.

“We have hastened their untimely end. Projections are that these vital trust funds upon which millions of Americans depend will be depleted by the year 2031,” McAdams said. “The day of reckoning is coming and it’s coming quickly.”

The proposed legislation would create “rescue committees” in Congress to look at ways to save Social Security, Medicare, the national highway trust fund and others, and force floor votes on any committee recommendations.

The National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare, among others, has criticized the plan as one that would lead to increased retirement age and slowed the growth of benefits.

McAdams said the action pressed by Romney is needed as pandemic spending will increase the national deficit to an expected $3.7 trillion this year. “Not only are we stealing from our children’s future, but this pandemic is threatening the promises that we’ve made to older Americans through Social Security and Medicare trust funds.”

After the Democrat had praised Romney, he opted not to criticize President Donald Trump for his weekend executive orders to try to extend some aid including enhanced unemployment insurance benefits.

“While I certainly have some criticism with how the president has handled this pandemic,” McAdams said, “I’m not going to criticize someone making an effort. ... I’m incredibly frustrated with the inability of Congress — Democrats and Republicans — to find common ground while American people are suffering.”

Curtis on Monday did criticize Trump’s move as a possibly illegal political shortcut that “hurts our system of checks and balances — no matter who is in power.”

Curtis added, “America will have a better and more durable result when broadly-supported action is taken by the diverse interests represented in Congress, as opposed to questionably legal executive orders from the administration.”

Sen. Mike Lee also weighed in, claiming in a tweet that President Trump’s executive orders all were legal. But he blamed Congress for ceding its power over many years and called for a legislative fix to reverse course in the future.

“Unlike President Obama’s completely illegal DACA program, President Trump has successfully identified a statutory basis for each of his recent executive orders,” Lee, R-Utah, tweeted. “That said, it is disturbing how much legislative power Congress has given the Executive branch and I call on my colleagues who say they oppose these actions to work with me in returning these powers to the legislative branch where they belong.”

McAdams said in his speech that some deficit spending currently is needed to help the economy survive the pandemic, but that it should be focused tightly on what families and businesses need to survive.

He complained that some of his fellow Democrats worry that the country isn’t spending enough to save the economy, so they say, “Let’s do everything, throw and put everything in a bill, throw everything at the wall and see what sticks.”

McAdams said that’s as irresponsible as not spending enough, as he says some Republicans propose. And he said the most irresponsible possibility of all is doing what’s happening now — essentially nothing as Washington is in a stalemate on moving another relief bill forward.

“Certainly, the worst thing we could do for the deficit and the debt is to watch the economy go off the cliff and do nothing to stop it,” McAdams said.

McAdams, who co-chairs the moderate Democrats’ Blue Dog Coalition Task Force on Fiscal Responsibility and Government Reform, notes the group proposed several steps to help guide future reform packages.

“The first was to stop sending checks to dead people,” he said, noting the Government Accountability Office found the administration had sent stimulus checks for $1.4 billion to 1.1 million dead people.

Another step is to increase transparency on who receives grants and how it is spent. He noted that after calls by him and others to release information on Payroll Protection Program grants intended for small businesses, the news media and others found money often went to big businesses from the Los Angeles Lakers to the Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

He said if transparency is written into future packages, it will decrease improper application use and applications for grants. McAdams also called for strengthening inspectors general to look at pandemic grants to seek out and punish any waste, fraud and abuse.

McAdams, a freshman, is in a close race for re-election against GOP nominee Burgess Owens. McAdams won his last election in his swing district by just 694 votes.