Democrats rally behind monthly $2,000 relief checks
Democrats are rallying behind a plan to give most Americans monthly $2,000 relief checks during the coronavirus crisis, an issue that’s popular with the liberal base and American voters amid widespread economic damage from the deadly pandemic.
There’s no guarantee the costly proposal will make it into the final coronavirus package that will eventually be negotiated by the Trump administration and Democratic leaders.
Republicans, who control the Senate, are balking at the idea even as the president concedes more aid may be needed for workers.
But on a call with Democrats this week, sources said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) endorsed the monthly relief checks — the greatest indication yet that she could include the plan in the CARES 2 package that House Democrats plan to unveil in the coming days.
“The government has told people we need to shelter in place to keep safe. So it’s the government’s obligation to provide for basic expenses while we’re telling people not to work. It’s really that simple,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a progressive leader who has authored legislation calling for more relief checks, told The Hill.
“We need $2,000 a month for families struggling to pay the bills,” he added.
The idea builds off the initial $2.2 trillion CARES Act, which gave most Americans one-time stimulus checks of up to $1,200, plus more money for each dependent, and has been gaining momentum among Democrats on both sides of the Capitol.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Progressive Caucus Co-Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) have teamed up on the ABC Act that would give every American $2,000 a month for the duration of the crisis, and $1,000 a month for an entire year after the crisis ends.
Similar legislation offered by Khanna, who was co-chairman of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), would be based on means testing. The Emergency Money for the People Act would give a $2,000 monthly payment to individuals making less than $130,000 a year, or $4,000 a month for couples making less than $260,000 annually.
Reps. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.), the top Democrat on the Joint Economic Committee, are calling on Pelosi to include their plan in the next coronavirus bill. It calls for an additional one-time $1,500 payment and possible $1,000 quarterly payments based on certain “triggers,” including high unemployment.
On Friday, Sens. Sanders, Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), a leading contender to be Joe Biden’s running mate, rolled out a plan of their own, the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act. It would send monthly $2,000 checks to Americans who make less than $120,000 a year, up until three months after the pandemic ends. Married couples would receive $4,000, plus another $2,000 for each child.
“Bills come in every single month during the pandemic and so should help from our government,” Harris tweeted.
These types of programs put cash directly in the hands — or bank accounts — of Americans struggling to stay afloat during the pandemic. But it’s also good politics, something Trump administration officials recognized when they put the president’s signature on the $1,200 stimulus checks.
And 60 percent of Americans say that initial relief check wasn’t enough to get them through the pandemic, according to a recent MONEY/Morning Consult poll.
“A monthly stimulus check is a win all around: for America and the economy, for Democrats and for Trump,” said a source who was on this week’s call with Democratic whip team call where Pelosi voiced support for more relief checks. “People care about getting a check from the government, not the PPP,” the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses. “You restart the economy with a direct stimulus check, not a slush fund for big banks.”
Pelosi raised eyebrows last month when she told MSNBC that a basic or guaranteed income proposal, giving Americans a minimum monthly income, could now be “worthy of attention” given the economic calamity brought on by the coronavirus. It’s a variation of the universal basic income plan promoted by entrepreneur Andrew Yang during his improbable run for the Democratic presidential nomination.
But Democrats said they were pleasantly surprised this week when Pelosi, unprompted, told colleagues she wanted to see a $2,000 monthly payments provision included in the CARES 2 package. Aides said the Speaker didn’t mention a specific bill and they cautioned that no final decision had been made about whether it will be included in the package that House Democrats plan to vote on next week or the week after.
What’s certain is that she will have a big say about what ends up in the final product, even as she directs her leadership team and top committee chairmen to work out the details of CARES 2.
One concern for Pelosi and her leadership team: They may not want CARES 2 to become a liberal wish list that alienates vulnerable swing-district Democrats and their constituents. But these moderate Democrats facing tough reelections in the fall are not slamming the door on the idea of additional relief checks; they just want to ensure the money is distributed appropriately.
“The suffering is broad, the suffering is deep. And, you know, I want to entertain any idea that can provide relief to people to get through these difficult days,” said one vulnerable Democratic lawmaker.
But he added: “I’m troubled, a little bit though, by any mechanism that doesn’t have some degree of a means test applied to it. When I see PPP loans going to businesses that are actually doing just fine or checks going to people that don’t need them — that’s troublesome to me.”
In that same vein, Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), who has the difficult task of protecting front line Democrats this November, has joined a bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers in questioning the Trump administration why some dead people have been receiving coronavirus stimulus checks.
“While it is essential that our constituents receive stimulus payments quickly, these improper payments to deceased individuals represent significant government waste and a burden to constituents who mistakenly receive the payments,” the lawmakers wrote.
Updated: 12:19 p.m.
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