Biden campaign YouTube screenshot

In a last-minute surprise as the Senate begins work on its version of Joe Biden's MONEY FOR MERICA PLS coronavirus relief bill, the Biden administration agreed with a proposal by some Senate Democrats to limit some very slightly higher-income Americans' eligibility for $1,400 direct cash payments. As with the two previous relief payments, most Americans with individual incomes up to $75,000 a year would still qualify for the full payment, but partial payments for folks making more would drop off far more sharply than in the other two stimmy bills. Because if you're a Wall Street Journal op-ed, $400,000 is middle-class to barely-getting-by, but if you're in the middle of a global pandemic, $80,000 is "high income." We guess.

If the tighter eligibility rule stays in the bill, that'll result in about 12 million Americans, including kids, getting less emergency relief cash from Biden than they did from Donald Trump, according to an estimate by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. Why yes, that does sound like a ready-made GOP campaign ad. Yeesh!


Under the formula used in the first and second stimulus packages, virtually all citizens were eligible for the full payment if they earned up to $75,000 for an individual, and up to $150,000 for couples filing jointly. Folks making more than that saw the payment reduced incrementally, with partial payments ending for individuals making $100,000 ($200,000 for couples).

Under the plan announced yesterday, the $75,000/$150,000 cap for the full payment stays where it is, but the partial payments for people making more phase out more sharply, with not even a fractional payment going to individuals making $80K or couples making $160K.

it's not entirely clear why anyone thought this was necessary, except to please Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and some other moderates who have loudly called for the payments to be "targeted" at people who "need" the money. Manchin sure likes saying "targeted" a lot!

"We're just looking for a targeted bill, want it to be very targeted, helping the people that need help the most," he told reporters earlier this week when asked if anything in the COVID-19 relief package needed to be changed to clinch his vote.

We should also note that Slate's Jordan Weissman reports that "multiple Democratic sources" told him that the reduction in eligibility was needed to meet the bizarro rules for passing the stimmy bill through the budget reconciliation process; that may turn out to be a thing, but at this point, it sure feels more like a concession to Manchin for no really obvious reason besides "goddammit he's the 50th vote."

Christ, we thought we'd settled this the first time around, when the administration floated cutting eligibility even more sharply.

Even from a deficit hawk perspective, the change will cut payments to millions without really saving a hell of a lot of money in the overall scheme of things. Talking Points Memo 'splains,

To many observers, the politics of the change are incomprehensible. It risks angering or alienating people who got checks last time, and for what? The cuts save about $12 billion, one Democratic aide told the Washington Post — out of a $1.9 trillion bill. That's 0.6 percent of the whole package.

But Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-New Hampshire), one of the moderates who had pushed Biden to spend less on a program that has huge popular support even from Republicans, told the Post that she'd like to redirect that money to hospitals, maybe, although a Senate Democratic aide told Slate the savings won't be going to other Democratic priorities.

At least Biden turned down another item some moderates thought was really nifty: Biden's plan increases the amount of additional emergency unemployment insurance from $300 a week to $400; some moderates wanted to keep the payments at a lower level, because Jesus Christ, why? Oh right, because if you're a Wall Street Journal op-ed, $250,000 is AIN'T EVEN GOT A PRIVATE JET, but if you're out of work $1600 a month is LUCKY DUCKY YOU HAVE A REFRIGERATOR DON'T YOU.

Whoops there went our ital-lock key!

Not surprisingly, progressives are pissed, though it remains to be seen whether progressives in the House will try to restore the full eligibility. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) said in a statement,

I don't understand the political or economic wisdom in allowing Trump to give more people relief checks than a Democratic administration. [...] People went far too long without relief last year — if anything we should be more generous, not more stingy. It's also an insensitive compromise for the roughly 80 percent of Americans that live in urban areas, which are known for higher costs of living.

Ben Ritz, of the Progressive Policy Institute, tweeted that this looks like a prime example of political give-and-take for its own sake leading to a crappy deal:

The life of a moderate is campaigning for more practical proposals than that of the ideologues, then watching your advocacy result in a final policy that is somehow even worse than if you had just let the ideologues get their way in the first place

The ensmallening of direct payments certainly won't win over any Republicans, it may piss off some of the suburban voters who went for Biden, and it also ratchets down the amount of money that'll be going back into the economy from people paying off bills and buying stuff. Maybe we'll see some numbers that back up the argument that the move was necessary for reconciliation, but unless that turns out to be the case, this just really seems stupid for everyone concerned — even moderates, who might score some "I saved taxpayer money" points, but will also have to face ads pointing out that thanks to them, people in their states saw less coronavirus relief money than they did under Trump.

Ultimately, the political costs may not be all that great; the bill still includes a lot of desperately needed assistance to state and local governments, as well as that increase in the child tax credit that will, on its own, substantially reduce child poverty in the USA. Even better, on a conference call with House Democrats, the Post reports, Biden "told Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) he supports legislation that would permanently increase the child tax credit to $3,000 per child," rather than just the one-year increase in the stimulus bill.

Look, just pass the damn thing, before Joe Manchin gets any other bright ideas.

[TPM / Slate / WaPo]

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Doktor Zoom

Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.

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