Government Spending

Democrats Push $2,000 'Survival Checks' to Make Up for the 'Woefully Inadequate' $5 Trillion Federal Relief Effort

Progressives want to spend an additional $435 billion to help people who've lost neither jobs nor income weather the pandemic.

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The United States government has gone through a nearly unprecedented fiscal expansion to combat the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic and related business shutdowns. The roughly $5 trillion in relief funds approved by Congress dwarfs the federal government's response to the Great Recession.

You wouldn't know this from listening to the country's progressive lawmakers who are now pushing for $2,000 "survival checks" for all Americans to make up for this heartlessly stingy multi-trillion federal relief effort.

As soon as President Donald Trump signed the $908 billion Response and Relief Act on Sunday—which included $600 stimulus payments for both adults and their children, in addition to billions in unemployment benefits, small business aid, and emergency rental assistance—Democrats lobbied for more.

On Christmas Eve, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.), alongside Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D–Mich.), Pramila Jayapal (D–Wash.), Ilhan Omar (D–Minn.), and Ayanna Pressley (D–Mass.) unveiled legislation which would provide $2,000 checks for adults, plus $600 for children. That money would help correct for the "woefully inadequate relief" provided to Americans thus far during the pandemic, the quintet of lawmakers said in their press release.

The progressive "squad" is not alone in being disappointed with this new relief law.

Trump briefly threatened to sink this latest round of legislation unless it included $2,000 stimulus payments (plus some marginal cuts to foreign aid) saw most Democrats jump on the issue, with both Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) expressing support.

On Sunday, Pelosi went so far as to describe the almost $1-trillion-dollar relief legislation she helped craft as "a down payment on what is needed to crush the virus, put money in the pockets of the American people and honor our heroes."

On Monday evening, the Democrat-controlled House passed a proposal backed by Pelosi to increase the individual payments in the Response and Relief Act to $2,000 for both adults and children. That bill would also expand the number of eligible adult dependents that would qualify for these payments.

Should it pass, the bill would add $435 billion to the costs of the legislation, bringing its total costs up to roughly $1.3 trillion, according to the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The sudden enthusiasm among Democrats for $2,000 "survival checks" is obviously motivated in part by political opportunism. It's an easy issue on which to shame congressional Republicans—most of whom remain opposed to higher stimulus check spending—for being stingier than the current Republican president.

According to proponents, it's also a matter of dire necessity and one that will bring the U.S.'s pandemic response in line with the relief efforts enacted by other developed countries.

"Did you know Canada gave unemployed citizens $2,000 a month for 4 months to help them get through the pandemic?" Omar tweeted. "It's time for us to do the same."

The Canadian government's supposed generosity has been a mainstay of progressive calls for more aid.

Canada didn't provide its citizens with a $2,000 near-universal stimulus payment like the one Democrats are pushing, but rather $2,000 in monthly unemployment benefits to folks who'd lost jobs or income because of the pandemic. As numerous wonks have pointed out, that's notably less generous than the $600 weekly unemployment benefit provided for in the $2.3 trillion CARES Act passed back in March, which resulted in some two-thirds of jobless workers earning more in unemployment than they were making at their old jobs.

These comparisons with our northern neighbor are misleading. They're also representative of how Democrats are choosing to frame the $600 stimulus checks that just passed as the sum total of relief that the federal government is providing.

A casual follower of the discourse on coronavirus relief would be forgiven for not knowing that the Congress passed legislation that includes not just those checks but also $325 billion in aid to small businesses, $120 billion to fund 11 weeks of $300 weekly enhanced unemployment benefits, $25 billion in emergency rental assistance, and $13 billion in additional spending on food aid.

Despite their rhetoric about aiding the destitute with "survival" checks, Democrats are going on the warpath for billions more in spending that will mostly benefit people who are still pulling a paycheck, and likely haven't lost any income during the pandemic.

When Sen. Bernie Sanders (I–Vt.) says that we need direct payments to help people pay the rent and "put food on the table," he's ignoring the billions spent specifically on helping people pay the rent and put food on the table.

This purposeful obfuscation of the trillions in relief provided thus far should infuriate people regardless of their political orientation. Liberals should be mad at the prospects of money that could be spent helping the destitute going instead to the comparatively well-off. Debt-mindful conservatives should be steaming at the idea of spending an additional $435 billion in untargeted aid during a year when the deficit has grown to a record $3.1 trillion.

Libertarians should be aghast at this attempt to hoodwink the public into forgetting the massive expansion in the size and scope of the state over the past year.