The economy this spring is unlike any other in recent history. Millions of capped and gowned students will step into a marketplace shaped by a new administration, a $2 trillion infrastructure and jobs plan, and a pandemic that appears to be on the wane. Developments in growth industries like technology, energy, and sustainability present both an opportunity and a question: What will work look like now, and what is the government’s economic role in a recovery landscape?
We brought together two great minds representing both sides of the aisle— former Ohio Governor John Kasich, and former HUD Secretary Julián Castro — to discuss what bipartisanship might look like in a post-pandemic economy.
These are some of the thought-provoking highlights from the evening broadcast from the University of Notre Dame, moderated by CNBC host Kelly Evans, with cosponsors Rooney Center for the Study of American Democracy and BridgeND, the Notre Dame chapter of BridgeUSA. Responses from the one-hour program have been excerpted and condensed for clarity.
Kelly Evans: President Biden has been in office for 85 days, and signed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill into law. Are there elements of it you both agree on?
John Kasich: I think they could have probably reached an agreement at $1.1 or $1.2, but there was no effort on either side to really bridge. Were there things in there that are necessary? Absolutely. It’s about trying to make people’s lives better. When people are on the edge because of the pandemic, you want to help. But I don’t think we needed to spend that much. To all these students watching [this panel], at some point, you’re going to have to pay for this spending and your children. So I want to be mindful of stripping things out we don’t need, though there are a lot of things we do need.
KE: Secretary Castro, many in your party would say it’s insane to worry about this debt when we’re in a pandemic and crisis. But what if we do look back and say we shouldn’t have spent all that money?
Julian Castro: When it comes to racking up debt, there’s spending but there’s also revenue. What President Biden is doing is acknowledging how on the revenue side there are many things we can do to garner more revenue. In addition to the economic boost that I believe is going to happen, we’re already seeing the effects through the investments made with the stimulus. In the future, we also need to revamp our federal tax structures so the burden not just on everyday Americans, but also wealthy Americans and also big corporations, too many of which are able to avoid paying taxes for a long time. I think that’s the beginning of addressing the revenue issue.
KE: Are there ways you think we didn’t go far enough in the package?
JC: I think there are additional ways to garner revenue, and there are tremendous needs we have. In my old neck of woods, in housing, I see lot of Americans on the brink of eviction. I see the cost of housing spiking across the country, and the need to build hundreds of thousands of units of affordable housing. It’s been a long time since we’ve invested the way we should. Even with $2 trillion in infrastructure, it won’t get us all the way to catching up with the fact we’ve been neglecting infrastructure for decades.
KE: There’s some debate about what the term “infrastructure” actually encompasses. Why the divide over what it means?
JK: As governor, I was in charge of making sure we had good roads. I look at infrastructure as does it help to build the country? At the same time, there are other issues to be concerned about. You put a bunch of green jobs in this, labor jobs in this… the package to me should be things we agree are infrastructure. I agree broadband is. It could improve productivity, and to some degree begin to pay for itself. But with broadband, you have to look at what they’re talking about… they’re government programs. I think you have to use the technology of the private sector for creative solutions. These are things that have to be looked at separately. If you put them into one big package that gets jammed through Senate on a party-line vote, that’s not the way to do things in this country.
JC: I take an expansive view of infrastructure. I think we need to ensure everybody can live with dignity, and everybody counts. One phrase I like to steal [from my twin brother] is “infrastructure of opportunity.” You need a road to get from here to there to your dreams. You need an infrastructure of opportunity. Biden has invested in this economy so people can go out and work. But they also have children who need daycare or parents who need eldercare, and that’s the way I look at the infrastructure success in our country.
KE: Let’s talk about students entering the workforce. Governor, what role does the government have to play in a shifting workforce and economy? Or should it be the private sector driving innovation?
JK: I do think there should be government training programs. I’m actually involved in a program I’m excited about aimed at people unemployed or underemployed. We’ve been able to go to private sector companies, CEOs of big companies in central Ohio, and now we have an online education in technology skills—AI and machine learning. We’re going to train these people to give them a nano degree, and I asked the companies, “Will you agree to interview them?” And every one of the companies said yes.
KE: Where is the common ground on issues and programs that can offer graduating students confidence that there are good and affordable options for them?
JK: We gave [Ohio] kids in high school college credit for some programs. It’s amazing how much they can do and learn while still in high school. With that and community college or regional universities, they can go for just 2-3 years, which dramatically reduces the cost of education. Because people are not going to ring up this debt if people can find another way to get a degree. Do not dismiss the community college education. Community colleges are great options. There are big changes coming… We’ve had a black swan event with this pandemic in this economy now, which affects jobs and working from home, and online education is going to grow. Entrepreneurs who figure out how to do online education at the same time with real college and work experience, they’re going to be the winner.
JC: I agree. They find the job opportunities really don’t afford them the wherewithal to repay that debt and live a decent quality of life—people get saddled with decades of debt. I think we have to tighten up regulations on those [loan] programs. And I wholeheartedly support student debt relief. We have to address this huge mountain of student loan debt.
JK: I think the Secretary and I could sit down and be in great, great harmony, talk about common ground and we could find the things we agree on. Here’s the issue: We’re not in this to get elected or score a point. I could care less about this political garbage that’s out there. People are looking to bash each other instead of getting things done. I want to solve problems and help people. When he talks about housing—of course, we need to give people housing! We’ve got to think about different ways to do it, and if we need to spend some money, then God bless it, we’ve got to do it.