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

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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.

Phil: Strim, If I were to make a stack of $100 bills, do you know how high the stack would go to reach the $1.9 trillion President Joe Biden wants to spend on our fifth, that’s right, fifth, stimulus package?

Ethan: Is it taller than the Portland Observatory?

Phil: Just a bit. It would stack up more than 1,200 miles. Commercial airlines can fly 6.63 miles up, but this stack of dollars would be twice as high as the highest weather satellite.

Ethan: That air must be cold. But let me ask you. Do you know what would stack higher than 1,200 miles?

Phil: Yeah, stacking $100 bills that total the $5 trillion all the stimulus packages combined will spend! 

Ethan: Stacking the 26 million workers hurt by COVID who desperately need the $10,000 to $15,000 an underemployed family of four will likely earn through expanded unemployment, stimulus checks, child care subsidies and the expanded Earned Income Tax Credit Biden is proposing.

Phil: No doubt many families need help. But do you want to know what’s bigger than $15,000 per family?  

Ethan: I know what’s smaller. The $400 that 40 perecent of American adults don’t have in the bank to cover an emergency.

Phil: That $15,000 is a lot less than the $83,000 every American owes to cover the current national debt, including our children who will have to pay it back as they get jobs and raise their families. Worse, when interest rates rise, they will have to pay that, too!

Ethan: Well, do you know what’s bigger than $83,000?

Phil: The amount of taxes my family already passes into the public coffers every year?

Ethan: Congrats! You must be doing very well! But not what I was referring to; $83,000 is way less than the hundreds of billions of dollars state and municipal governments will have to raise in extra taxes to balance their budgets if the federal government does not provide relief.

Phil: How about trimming or suspending a few programs by 5 percent or 10 percent? I know, call me crazy. But speaking of percentages, do you know what’s larger than 118 percent?

Ethan: The amount of effort I give every week trying to convince you that the Republican Party is lost.

Phil: No, 136 percent. That’s the debt-to-GDP ratio we are scheduled to hit this year, before we borrow what Biden now wants us to borrow. The 118 percent I mentioned? That was the ratio from the borrowing needed to win World War II.

Ethan: Spending that also got us out of the Great Depression, which is where we are headed if we don’t match the moment. But do you know how many lives we lost in World War II?

Phil: Of course — 407,000.

Ethan: Yes, and 407,000 is also the number we will likely pass for COVID dead in Biden’s first full day as president of the United States (god, it feels good to say that). And it’s also the number we will surpass by 200,000 in the next 10 weeks if we don’t invest billions in the rapid roll-out of the vaccine.

Phil: But do you know what is longer than 10 weeks?

Ethan: Sure. It’s the number of additional weeks Biden is proposing unemployed Americans will receive unemployment (27).

Phil: What’s longer than 10 weeks is 15 weeks, the number most Americans must work to simply pay their income taxes. A hundred years ago it was 19 days!

Ethan: Well, 100 years ago we lost almost 700,000 Americans to the 1918 flu (which should actually be called the “Kansas flu,” because that is where it was first recorded), a number we are desperately trying to avoid this time around.

Phil: Of course, but the number I am trying to avoid is Chapter 11. We simply cannot keep printing money and not expect the piper to be paid. 

Ethan: You think we can’t afford to spend this much, and I think we can’t afford not to. Is there a number we both can agree on?

Phil: One — the number of parties that control Washington. Whether I like it or not, when you have the votes, you have the votes.

Ethan: Open the checkbook.