Talking Points

Is President Biden going to break his promise about $2,000 checks?

During the campaign for the Georgia Senate runoffs, both of the Democratic candidates and President Biden promised that, if they won, they would send out $2,000 pandemic relief checks. Well they did win, and now Democrats are considering whether to break their promise.

The previous rounds of checks, $1,200 in last March's CARES Act and another $600 in December, began phasing out for single people who made over $75,000 in 2019, or married couples who made $150,000. But Democrats are reportedly discussing slashing those levels to $50,000 and $75,000 respectively.

There has already been some debate about whether Democrats really meant $2,000 including the $600 that went out in December, or $2,000 in addition (personally, I say they should do $2,600 in total no matter what, because they might as well). However, there can be no question that slashing the eligibility threshold would mean flagrantly breaking Biden's promise. A threshold that low is cutting deep into the meat of the middle class, and would cut the number of people receiving the full checks by about 14 percentage points — or about 45 million people.

Moreover, this choice of "targeting" is in fact hideously inaccurate. Tax returns from 2019 are now two years old, and incomes are volatile even when there is not a pandemic that causes millions of people to lose their jobs. Census data show that nearly half of people who earned between $50,000 and $75,000 in 2019 have lost income during 2020, and of those, about a fifth have experienced food insecurity. (On the other hand, people whose income has jumped since 2019, like if they graduated from school and took high-paying jobs, will still get the full amount.)

President Biden and the Democratic Party should keep their promise and just send out the checks according to the previous formula. It's good policy and good politics.