Lotta grumbling about this online tonight, and not just from lefties.
GOP bill on immediate checks:
— $1,200 per person ($2,400 if filing jointly)
— $500 per kid
— Begins to phase out above $75K
— Phases out completely above $99K
— Much smaller benefit, of $600, for millions w/o federal tax liability pic.twitter.com/mPggn8eepS
— Jeff Stein (@JStein_WaPo) March 19, 2020
There are three basic criticisms:
1. The amounts are just too small. They’re especially too small for people who didn’t pay federal tax last year because their income was too low. The GOP’s attitude towards these payments, I take it, is that they’re a sort of retroactive tax cut: The checks aren’t handouts, they’re just partial reimbursement of taxes paid last year by Americans. Logically, then, people who didn’t pay tax at all would get a smaller cut. But low earners are doomed to be the people hit hardest by the massive shutdowns caused by the virus’s spread. They’ve got to pay the rent too and they’ll have the hardest time doing it of any segment of the population. If you’re willing to give them a little something, i.e. $600, despite the fact that they paid no tax last year, why not give them the same $1,200 as everyone else? Josh Hawley gets it:
Relief to families in this emergency shouldn’t be regressive. Lower-income families shouldn’t be penalized
— Josh Hawley (@HawleyMO) March 19, 2020
2. There’s no cost-of-living adjustment based on where you live. A $1,200 check will go a lot further for a taxpayer who lives in Mississippi than it will for one who lives in New York City. It’s a rent payment for the former but emphatically not for the latter. If the feds are about to sink further into debt that’ll plague us for decades — and what choice do they have right now? — we might as well make the money truly helpful to people, not just token amounts that don’t solve meaningful problems. That starts with COLA.
3. This isn’t the time for means-testing. I wrote in favor of means-testing the checks a few days ago on grounds that the thousand bucks will be pocketed by higher earners, reducing the stimulus effect of the checks, and won’t be enough to pay the bills for lower earners. Why not reduce the amount given to the former and increase the amount given to the latter? There’s a counterargument in favor of sending a flat amount to every adult, though — namely that every second counts. If we pick a number and give everyone the same cut, those checks can go out immediately. No fancy time-wasting calculations about adjusted gross income necessary. Just cut the g-ddamned checks already. People will have rent to pay less than two weeks from now.
That idea is coming from the left…
“In an interview with The Atlantic today, Rep. Katie Porter (D-CA), a leading progressive, criticized Pelosi, saying ‘The fact that the speaker’s talking about refundable tax credits … Who has time to wait to do their taxes and see what they get a year from now?’” https://t.co/SgoX6UHnI9
— Akela Lacy (@akela_lacy) March 19, 2020
…but also from the right. “Nope. Nope. Nope. No means-testing,” wrote David French about the Senate GOP’s proposal. “People who were doing well last year are watching their businesses go up in flames this year. If you don’t need the money, donate the money.” Michael Brendan Dougherty made the same point. Normally conservatives trust individuals to make better decisions than the government about what to do with their money, right? Well, same with the stimulus. Cut the checks now, providing one flat sum across the board for all taxpayers, and let every adult who doesn’t need the money redirect it to a better use.
Yes, some millionaires and even a few billionaires may get these little assistance checks if the government rushes them out. If Congress is really sore about 1 percenters, it can find a way to add a surcharge to income taxes in the future, clawing the money back as revenue.
But as it becomes clear in the weeks ahead how painful these shutdowns will be, I expect that Americans who are retaining their salaries will intelligently donate and redirect universal aid to the needy people and charities that Congress could never design a program of aid to help.
Making the aid universal makes it faster and more effective. Allowing citizens to make millions of separate and decentralized judgments about the needs in their communities will also make the aid more effective overall. This isn’t a normal recession in which firms, entrepreneurs, and workers are alerted to “malinvestment” in the economy and asked to readjust. The service sector doesn’t deserve in any way the pain being inflicted on it. So let’s not try to set rules as if we’re teaching citizens a lesson.
That sounds more in line with what Trump and Steve Mnuchin have in mind. Mnuchin wants $1,000 for every adult to start, plus $500 for each child. A family of four would get $3,000 irrespective of income. And not just as a one-time payment, either. Mnuchin’s imagining another payment six weeks from now if we’re still in a widespread lockdown by then.
There are other provisions in the GOP bill for business, of course, such as a delay in payroll taxes owed by employers and more than $200 billion in loans and loan guarantees for businesses. That includes $50 billion for airlines. Note to Trump: A plan that would shower billions on air carriers while nickel-and-diming low-earning people with $600 checks is not a good look for a populist. Consider it carefully. As for the prospect of passage in the Senate, hmmmm:
Fox News is told McConnell did not yet have the votes on his side, and that the situation was complicated by the fact that two Republicans have self-quarantined. The GOP holds a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate, with Vice President Mike Pence the possible tiebreaking vote.
Mitch, my boy, you really, really, really should consider remote voting for senators. Stay tuned for a post on that, in fact.
By the way, here’s the House’s counterproposal:
This #COVID19 proposal out of the house financial committee is really good:
– 2k/month per person every month of the crisis
– suspension of all mortgages, student loans, credit card and loan payments
– prohibit debt collection and repossession
– $5b in homeless assistance pic.twitter.com/qX5IOwHWnS
— Max Berger (@maxberger) March 19, 2020
Read our own Ed Morrissey at The Week today on why the new stimulus is a bailout that even the tea party could and should support. We’re not saving banks from the consequences of their own terrible decisions here. We’re rescuing wage-earners from a once-in-a-century epidemic that’s forced their businesses to shutter for the sake of the common good. Exit question: What would the GOP attitude be towards a trillion-dollar pandemic-related stimulus in a world where Hillary edged out Trump in 2016 and now had to manage the coronavirus epidemic? They’d be more willing to go along with it than they were with the 2009 bank bailout given the unusual circumstances of this intervention, but how much more? Fiscal conservatism would have been a far more urgent concern within the party since 2017 in that reality than in this one.