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‘Good enough’ or ‘train wrecks’? Economists, pundits weigh in on $2,000 stimulus checks

Even after Sen. McConnell blocked a bill to increase stimulus payments Tuesday, the debate continues.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., walks past reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020.
Susan Walsh, Associated Press

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a House bill on Tuesday, which would have increased stimulus checks from $600 to $2,000. The much-debated provision — supported by President Donald Trump and House Democrats, but opposed by McConnell and many Senate Republicans — will likely remain a focus of the Senate for several days.

Increasing the amount of individual stimulus payments could make a huge difference — for better or for worse, as many economists, pundits and others have argued.

In an editorial titled “This Deal is Good Enough,” the New York Times editorial board analyzed the stimulus bill’s strengths and weaknesses — and supported it.

“Congress should have acted months ago, and the delay has caused a lot of unnecessary pain,” the editorial said. “Even now, Congress is not doing enough to meet the full measure of the need. But the relevant question is whether this agreement will help — and the clear answer is yes.”

Robert McNab, an economist at Old Dominion University, called the stimulus bill “a multitude of train wrecks.”

“$2,000 might be a temporary Band-Aid,” McNab said, instead proposing monthly payments over a year or longer. “If your house is on fire, you don’t stand there arguing there with the firefighters about your property tax bill. You ask them to put out the fire.”

The Wall Street Journal editorial board warned that Trump insisting on $2,000 checks — and McConnell’s hesitance — may sabotage the GOP’s chances of winning the Georgia Senate runoffs.

“President Trump finally signed the COVID-19 relief bill and 2021 budget on Sunday night, but not before giving a big assist to Democratic hopes of gaining control of the Senate in the two runoff elections on Jan. 5,” the editorial said. “By all accounts Mr. Trump is angry about his election defeat, and he is lashing out at anyone who won’t indulge his hopeless campaign to overturn it. ... Mr. Trump’s narcissism isn’t news. But if Republicans lose the two Georgia seats and their majority, Republicans across the country should know to thank Mr. Trump for their 2021 tax increase.”

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin argued that “there is no more justification than ever” for stimulus checks larger than $600 — and for more rounds of payments than one.

“The danger in trying to steer the economy through the recession was always in doing too little, not doing too much,” she wrote on Tuesday. “Now is not the time to worry about spending restraint. Trump’s delay has caused more distress than needed. And the response will have to be bigger if we are to prevent even greater suffering and long-term economic damage.

“Congress should not wait any longer to get more money into the pockets of more Americans. Dragging their heels is a recipe for economic calamity.”

Christina Rice, director of the graduate tax program at Boston University School of Law, posited that targeted payments are more effective than payments en masse.

“If we want to easily direct financial help to those most affected by the pandemic, we should compare taxable income in 2019 to taxable income in 2020 and direct stimulus payments to those who actually saw meaningful decline in their annual earnings during 2020,” Rice explained in an op-ed for The Hill. “This is an administratively simple way to quickly identify those who suffered the biggest financial setbacks during 2020 and are likely most in need of additional financial stimulus.”

Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Jenice Armstrong called the $600 checks “unbelievably miserly” and the Republican Senators “GOP Scrooges.”

“It took members nine months to come up with a federal relief package and that’s what they came up with? Shameful,” she wrote. “Here’s hoping the Ghost of Christmas Present will haunt those responsible for the fiasco this holiday season.”

The Deseret News editorial board critiqued Congress’ threatened shutdown, calling the process to pass COVID-19 relief “far from good behavior.”

“Now, despite the flailing in Washington, Americans should not miss the opportunity to call on all of Congress to do its job,” the editorial said. “We implore both political parties, both chambers of Congress and both branches of governments to lead and to serve the people of this nation who are weary from the pandemic, economic uncertainty and divisive discord.”