Let’s Talk About Those $1,400 Checks

Inauguration Day was a little weird for Never Trumpers (or at least for me). I mean,  it was probably strange for everyone to see Donald Trump close out his presidency to the tune of “YMCA,” right? But what I mean is that while conservative Trump critics were glad to see the orange man depart political life (at least for the moment), we have an even keener sense than many observers of the deeper problems within the Republican coalition. It’s hard to feel joy knowing that few policymakers on your side are really thinking about policy these days. The political vehicle for center-right policy aspirations is being steered by deeply alienated Americans who view the entire point of politics and government as being a way to express their resentments against liberals and elites.

At the same time, few of us swooned at the inaugural festivities, cried over Zoom watch parties, or celebrated in any meaningful sense. Because while it could have been much worse—I am grateful every day that I didn’t have to vote for Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders—many, many of the Democratic party’s policy priorities still seem terribly misguided to Never Trumpers. 

Take, for example, the “economic impact payments” Democrats want to give most Americans, otherwise known as “$1,400 checks.” Most Americans received two rounds of checks last year: $1,200 per adult and $500 per child back in March, and $600 per person in December. For a married couple with two children making up to $150,000, that amounted to receiving $6,800 from Uncle Sam. Democrats now want to give most households a third set of checks to the tune of $1,400 more per person. When combined with the December amounts, this proposal would fulfill the popular call on the left for $2,000 checks.

This latest round would cost $464 billion in 2021, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation of Congress. Such sums used to be eye-popping even over a 10-year window. A worthwhile expenditure, you say? It is true that the Tax Policy Center estimates the checks would increase the 2021 income of the bottom fifth of taxpayers by 17 percent. However, the bottom fifth would receive just 15 percent of the benefits from this proposal, while the 28 percent of households making more than $100,000 would receive 32 percent of the benefits. That is to say, Democrats propose to spend $150 billion on a third round of free money for households making six figures.

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