Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 18, 2021
By Robert Verbruggen, National Review
Just weeks ago, Congress passed a roughly trillion-dollar COVID relief bill. As I wrote at the time, the legislation was hardly perfect, but it provided enough help to get us through for a while — hopefully until the vaccines start knocking the virus’ death toll down and we can get back to normal.
But soon we’ll have a new Democratic president backed up by Democratic majorities in Congress, so $900 billion is no longer enough. Last night, Joe Biden put out a plan to spend about $2 trillion more. I suppose that makes sense, given that the Democrats’ original proposal last year amounted to $3 trillion in total, or about $9,000 for every person alive in this country.
Some elements of the plan — particularly those that fight the virus directly — are at least worth debating. The vaccine rollout has not been as fast as anyone would hope, for example, and Biden would like to pump some money and manpower into improving it. But according to Biden’s own outline, only $160 billion in spending is targeted “to mount a national vaccination program, expand testing, mobilize a public health jobs program, and take other necessary steps to build capacity to fight the virus.”
Mostly, the proposal would just shove insane amounts of money at everyone in sight. Some of its policies it hardly tries to connect to the pandemic at all.
Remember the whole kerfuffle about $2,000 checks to most Americans, regardless of whether they’ve been financially harmed by COVID-19? Well, that’s back. Biden wants to send another $1,400 out to complement the previous bill’s $600 checks. On top of that, he’d boost the child tax credit to $3,000 this year, an increase of $1,000, with an extra $600 for kids under six years old.
Then there’s unemployment. The previous bill, quite justifiably, added $300 per week to the normal unemployment payouts until mid March. As I argued at the time, this will pay some people more than they made while working, but it’s reasonable under the circumstances, and it should help the economy as it’s spent. Biden, however, wants to bring those bonuses up to $400 and continue them through September, adding that he’ll “work with Congress on ways to automatically adjust the length and amount of relief depending on health and economic conditions so future legislative delay doesn’t undermine the recovery and families’ access to benefits they need.”
By September, the vaccines should have been widely available for months, and the economy should be in far better shape. Why pass such a long-lasting measure now, rather than waiting to see how things go? Several other provisions — including paid leave, an eviction moratorium, and a boost to food stamps — would last through September as well.
The proposal further hands over lots of funds to state and local governments. Schools in particular get $130 billion in “flexible resources to safely reopen and operate and/or facilitate remote learning.” Public higher ed — as well as private “Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority Serving Institutions” — gets $35 billion, some of which will be passed through to student aid. Not to mention “$350 billion in emergency funding for state, local, and territorial governments to ensure that they are in a position to keep front line public workers on the job and paid, while also effectively distributing the vaccine, scaling testing, reopening schools, and maintaining other vital services.” As Jared Walczak of the Tax Foundation has noted, the last bill helped these governments some too, even though “most states have been able to cover losses with their existing revenues and the federal aid they have already received, often without making any spending adjustments at all.”
Read more at National Review.