Centrist members of Congress from both parties are asking a question that merits an answer: Why this rush to spread pandemic relief money to people who don't need it, when so many others clearly do? The push by left-wing Democrats and populist Republicans to send out $1,400 (added to the recent $600) to individuals making up to $75,000 a year is going to put a lot of public money in the pockets of people who aren't struggling, making it more difficult to aid those who are.
Couples who make six figures between them don't need the taxpayers' help; the unemployed, the working poor and struggling city governments very much do. The Biden administration should tailor this package more specifically to need rather than simply throwing money at the problem.
The first round of direct funding that went out under the Cares Act in March provided $1,200 per person making up to $75,000, or $2,400 for couples with combined incomes up to $150,000. Then as now, this didn't make a lot of sense at the upper edges of those income limits. But in the early days of the pandemic, there was an urgency to get as much money as possible out to the public quickly, and there was concern that needs-testing for the funds would hold up the program. A year into a crisis that clearly will still be with us awhile — and with the pandemic debt high and rising — there is a better argument to be made now for more selective targeting of the funds.
The issue here isn't the $1.9 trillion total price tag of Biden's plan. Congressional Republicans who are obsessed with lowering that number have short memories. It was just three years ago when the GOP rammed through a tax cut for the rich at a deficit cost of some $2 trillion, at a time when the economy wasn't in need of help. Biden's total ask is justified by the continuing emergency.
But what justifies giving a major chunk of that money to people who are employed and solidly middle class, at the expense of what should be greater spending for those in need? Calling it "stimulus" is a misnomer; the continuing business restrictions due to the coronavirus make it likely many of those government checks will go not back into the economy, but into the savings accounts of people who are already doing just fine.
The list of better ways to spend that money is exhaustive: More and longer extensions on unemployment benefits, compensation for mothers forced to leave work to care for homebound kids, small business aid, rent and mortgage assistance, student loan relief and aid to cities with devastated budgets due to the economic shutdowns, just to name a few. At the very least, the current income thresholds to get checks should be dramatically lower. Politicians love to coddle the middle class, but that's not where the need is today.
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