The question is whether that can and should be done on a bipartisan basis, or whether Democrats who now exercise control over Congress and the White House will need to enact President Biden’s $1.9 trillion plan on a party-line basis, using the “reconciliation process” that requires only the 51 Democratic Senate votes (including Vice President Harris) rather than the 60, including 10 Republicans, needed to break a filibuster.
Mr. Biden’s instincts are “to move forward with a bipartisan bill,” according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki — and those instincts are sound. There is a group of eight Republicans and eight Democrats that wants to do a deal, but not necessarily for the same amount Mr. Biden seeks. Their main concern — how to better target the nearly 25 percent of Mr. Biden’s proposal, or $465 billion, that goes for $1,400 payments to households — is anything but invalid, as the president himself has acknowledged.
The administration’s plan could result in families with earnings as high as $300,000 receiving some government aid. Yet a new study from economists affiliated with Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit policy institute, projects that only about 7 percent of the $200 billion that would go to singles earning more than $50,000 or couples earning more than $75,000 would be spent. Mr. Biden could reduce the cost of his direct payment plan by almost half with little negative impact on anything except the savings of people well outside the group — workers earning $27,000 or less — that has suffered most in the pandemic.
Obviously, neither Mr. Biden nor the Senate and House Democratic leaders should bend to unreasonable demands. They should maintain reconciliation as an option to ward off GOP tactics that would prevent relief legislation from moving speedily, which is also critical because extended unemployment benefits expire in mid-March. Yet when the opposition party or, indeed, critics of Mr. Biden’s plan within his own party, have data on their side, as they do in the case of direct payments, they deserve a hearing.
What’s more, targeting relief to the neediest — thus freeing up more resources for higher priorities such as vaccines and safe school reopenings — comports with progressivism, properly understood. Along with addressing the country’s triple crises of disease, joblessness and governance, keeping Democrats focused on the areas where government assistance is genuinely indispensable would be a worthy goal for the Biden administration’s first 100 days.