Better Than Nothing?

Written by SK Ashby

Congressional leaders finally reached a deal on a coronavirus stimulus package last night and it's about what we expected to see after lawmakers initially approached a middle ground on a deal.

The stimulus or aid package, which will ostensibly be attached by a government funding bill and passed later tonight, is surprisingly comprehensive in both good and bad ways/

The package includes small stimulus checks for adults and children along with additional assistance for the unemployed among other things. It also includes a provision that I find almost comical.

The bill includes $166 billion in new direct payments of up to $600 per adult and child, for individuals making up to $75,000 a year and $1,200 for couples making up to $150,000 a year. The bill expands direct payments to mixed-status households.

More unemployment benefits: An additional $300 per week for some unemployment recipients, with expanded coverage to the self employed, “gig” workers and others in nontraditional situations. [...]

Business meal write-offs. A new tax break for business meal expenses, nicknamed the “three martini” deduction.

Did we really need to give lobbyists the ability to write off their lunches?

No, and you can be sure that a Republican was responsible inserting this nonsensical tax cut into the bill.

The package also includes a provision that will end surprise medical bills from out-of-network emergency treatment, which is great, but it also includes $284 billion in additional funding for the fraud-ridden Paycheck Protection Program. And I'm not necessarily going to say throwing almost $300 billion at PPP loans (again) is the worst idea, but that large slice of the pie means only $166 billion is available for stimulus checks.

I know at least some legitimate applicants have appropriately used PPP loans for their intended purpose, but we can't even say the majority have. Tens of billions, if not hundreds of billions, have been lost to fraud or abuse.

Including this third round of funding, we will have flushed nearly a trillion dollars (about ~$940 billion) down the Paycheck Protection Toilet since the beginning of the pandemic. For that amount of money, we could have established monthly direct payments to every American and none of that would have ended up in the hands of middlemen. None of it would have been used to simply pad corporate balance sheets. It would have been significantly more stimulative.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and other Republicans are claiming that a package similar to this could have been passed 'months ago' if Democrats hadn't stood in the way, but that's an obvious lie to anyone who has paid even the slightest bit of attention. I'm sure you recall that McConnell's own stimulus proposal was whittled down to just $300 billion at one point and it did not include most of the provisions included in the new package.

This is only happening now because Republicans enabled the uncontrolled spread of the coronavirus by refusing to pass a significant stimulus package. This package isn't big enough to stop the spread, either, but as the headline posits: it may be better than nothing.