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We May Be Having the Wrong Debate on Relief Checks

The real question is why rich people are getting them, too, writes Catherine Rampell
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Dec 29, 2020 8:36 AM CST
Updated Dec 29, 2020 12:37 PM CST

(Newser) – The issue of whether Americans will get relief checks of $600 or $2,000 is now in the hands of the Senate, and the legislative jiu-jitsu already has begun. It's expected to play out over a few days, and how it will end up is anyone's guess at this point. Meanwhile, a different argument has surfaced about who should get the money. Coverage:

  • A shift: Axios reports that as recently as a few days ago, it seemed "impossible" the Senate would back $2,000 checks. But that has changed with senators feeling the pressure from President Trump and their own constituents. Some Republicans may not be able to risk a "no" vote, putting the needed threshold of 60 votes in sight. However, it's still an "uphill battle," per Axios.
  • Support growing: So far, GOP Sens. David Perdue, Kelly Loeffler, Marco Rubio, Josh Hawley, and Deb Fischer have announced their support of the $2,000 checks, reports the Washington Post. Perdue and Loeffler are under particular pressure to back the larger amounts because they face runoff elections in Georgia next week. That still leaves Democrats seven votes short, though the numbers are changing quickly.

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  • Your money: So what does all this mean in terms of when you'll get money? The Treasury may begin sending out $600 payments at some point this week, on track with its original schedule, reports the Wall Street Journal. If the final amount ends up being $2,000, the payments "will be topped up," says a Treasury official. The first payments could go out Wednesday, though it's possible that could change. Most would be in the form of direct deposits.
  • Wrong question? In a Washington Post op-ed, Catherine Rampell says the $600 vs. $2,000 debate is the wrong one to be having. Instead, she wants to know why rich people will be getting relief checks, too. Yes, they might not get the full amount, but even a family that earns $350,000 would get something. These nearly universal payments are inefficient, she writes. "The payments end up being a pittance for higher-income, fully employed households, yet insufficient for the households that suffered large income losses."
  • The maneuvering: On Tuesday, Mitch McConnell rejected an attempt by Chuck Schumer to stage a quick, up-or-down vote on the larger checks. But this is just the opening gambit, with McConnell signaling he will tuck the increase into other legislation to be considered soon, per the Hill. It might, for example, be linked to the repeal of a legal shield for tech companies.
  • A slam: The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal (which opposes larger checks) is seething at Trump for putting McConnell in a bind. Holding a vote "would split the GOP caucus and upset fiscally conservative voters," the editors write. McConnell could instead opt to block a vote, but either way "it amounts to a Donald Trump in-kind contribution" to Schumer and Joe Biden. All of this also puts Georgia's two GOP senators in danger of losing their runoffs, the editorial adds. If the GOP loses its majority, "Republicans across the country should know to thank Mr. Trump for their 2021 tax increase."
  • Unfazed: Trump is keeping up the pressure. "$2000 for our great people, not $600!" he tweeted Tuesday morning. "They have suffered enough from the China Virus!!!"
(Read more COVID relief bill stories.)

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