Jun 11 2020

Vice Chair Beyer’s Calls with Nation’s Leading Economists Inspire Coronavirus Policy Proposals

Since March, Beyer and other Democratic members of Congress's economic think tank have talked with 18 economists and other policy experts, including two Nobel-Prize winners.

Washington, D.C.—For about an hour several times a week, Congressman Don Beyer (D-VA), Vice Chair of the U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee (JEC), talks with some of the nation’s most prominent economists and other policy experts about the economic impact of the coronavirus. The conversations, often joined by JEC Members and Members from other congressional committees, have led to policy proposals to help the nation respond and recover from the virus-related recession.

After a conversation with Nobel-prize winning economist Paul Romer, Vice Chair Beyer introduced legislation inspired by Romer’s idea to use university labs for coronavirus testing. As Romer explained on the call, widespread testing is key to reopening the economy, especially because a vaccine is far off.

After conversations with a number of top economists who expressed support for using automatic stabilizers to help the economy recover, Vice Chair Beyer—working with Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jack Reed (D-RI)—released a legislative proposal ensuring that the tens of millions of Americans who have filed for unemployment get benefits for as long as the unemployment rate remains high.

The legislative proposal received the support of former Federal Reserve Chairs Janet Yellen and Ben Bernanke, Nobel prize-winner Joseph Stiglitz, former Chairs of the Council of Economic Advisers Jason Furman and Austan Goolsbee, former Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and other prominent economists, almost all of whom Vice Chair Beyer has spoken to in recent weeks.

Economists Heather Boushey of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth and Jay Shambaugh of the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institution—two of the main advocates of proposals for the use of automatic stabilizers—also strongly supported Congressman Beyer’s proposal and talked with him at length about it.

Over the past three months, in calls with 18 economists and other policy experts, the most frequently heard message was that the top priority for the economy is to contain the coronavirus and that re-opening it too soon may prolong the recession.

Today, Vice Chair Beyer publicly thanked all of them and pledged to continue the calls throughout his tenure.

“It has been a privilege to talk to some of the nation’s top economists about the best ways to address the economic impact of the coronavirus,” Vice Chair Beyer said. “Good advice can turn into good policy. I listen carefully and I learn a lot. And when we can, we take action.”

Vice Chair Beyer added, “Although the President would have Americans believe otherwise, it is important to listen to the experts. His method is just to wing it—and we pay a very high price.”

When he was recommended as vice chair of the JEC by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic leadership asked Vice Chair Beyer to use the position to dig more deeply into economic inequality. Since then, the coronavirus has brought the nation’s race, class and gender fault lines to the forefront. To gain greater insight into these issues, a number of calls have focused on how inequality in the U.S. plays a substantial role in determining who is most likely to suffer worse health and economic impacts from the coronavirus.

One of these calls was with economist Darrick Hamilton, Executive Director of The Ohio State University’s Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity, who has spent his career studying economic inequality. After a conversation with Hamilton, Congressman Beyer publicly reiterated Hamilton’s warning about the dangers of race neutral federal programs that don’t have race neutral impacts, citing issues with the Paycheck Protection Program that were reported about in The New York Times, and released a report on race, class and the coronavirus that was written by a JEC Democratic staffer who studied under Hamilton.

“As a result of a corrosive cocktail of systemic inequalities, tens of thousands of people across the country are more likely to experience the health and economic effects of the coronavirus because of who they are, what they do, and where they live,” Vice Chair Beyer said. “As Dr. Hamilton powerfully and poignantly explained during our conversation with him, there are number of policies Congress can pass to address these health and economic disparities—health and economic disparities that have plagued our country long before the first American died of the coronavirus.”

During the call with Stiglitz, the economist emphasized that those who are concerned that Congress is spending too much money to address the health and economic effects of the coronavirus need to think about it as wartime spending. “When we entered WWII we didn’t ask ‘can we afford it?’” he said, reading from remarks he prepared for the call. “We have entered another war—this time with a deadly virus.”

During the call with Boushey, who used to work for the Democratic members of the JEC, the economist called on members of Congress to pass former JEC Chair Carolyn B. Maloney’s (D-NY) Measuring Real Income Growth Act of 2019, legislation that would require the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) to give policymakers a clearer picture of economic inequality by publishing data on how economic growth is distributed among Americans of all income levels. A few days later, the legislation was included in Congress’s fifth coronavirus relief package—the HEROES Act.

A full list of the economists and other policy experts that JEC Democrats have talked with are below. Soon they plan to talk with economist Lisa Cook, a professor at Michigan State University who served on the Council of Economic Advisers during the Obama Administration. If there is an economist or other policy expert who should be on JEC Democrats’ shortlist, please send suggestions to Kamara_Jones@jec.senate.gov.

  • Olugbenga Ajilore (Economist)
    • Senior Economist, Center for American Progress
  • David Autor (Economist)
    • Professor, Massachusetts Institute of Technology  
  • Heather Boushey (Economist)
    • President, CEO and Co-Founder, Washington Center for Equitable Growth
  • Ian Bremmer (Political Scientist)
    • President and Founder of the Eurasia Group
  • Austan Goolsbee (Economist)
    • Professor, University of Chicago
  • Darrick Hamilton (Economist)
    • Professor, The Ohio State University
    • Executive Director, The Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity
  • Bradley Hardy (Economist)
    • Associate Professor, American University
  • Glenn Hubbard (Economist)
    • Dean Emeritus, Professor, Columbia Business School
    • Former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush
  • Jack Lew
    • Former Secretary of the Treasury, White House Chief of Staff, and Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • Nellie Liang (Economist)
    • Senior Fellow in Economic Studies, Brookings Institution
    • Former Founding Director of the Division of Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Board
  • Greg Mankiw (Economist)
    • Professor, Harvard University
    • Former Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush
  • Chris Murray (Physician, Economist)
    • Director, Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington
    • Creator of “The Chris Murray Model,” a new COVID-19 forecasting model that predicts the state-by-state impact of the coronavirus pandemic on health systems in the U.S.
  • Raghuram Rajan (Economist)
    • Professor, University of Chicago
    • Former Governor of the Reserve Bank of India
  • Paul Romer (Economist)
    • Co-recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2018
    • Professor, New York University
  • Jon Sallet
    • Senior Fellow, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society
  • Joseph Stiglitz (Economist)
    • Recipient of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2001
    • Professor, Columbia University 
  • Adam Tooze (Historian)
    • Professor, Columbia University
  • Justin Wolfers (Economist)
    • Professor, University of Michigan 

History of the JEC

The JEC is Congress’s bipartisan, bicameral economic think tank. It was created when Congress passed the Employment Act of 1946. Under this Act, Congress established two advisory panels: the President's Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) and the JEC. Their primary tasks are to review economic conditions and to recommend improvements in economic policy.

Chairmanship of the JEC alternates between the Senate and House every Congress. Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) is the chair.

About Congressman Beyer

Congressman Beyer is currently serving his third term in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Northern Virginia suburbs of the nation’s capital. In addition to his role as Vice Chair (highest ranking Democrat) of the JEC, Beyer serves on the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Previously, Beyer served as the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia and Ambassador to Switzerland and built a successful family business over the course of four decades.