Yet a just-passed House bill would compound all of those errors by increasing the $600 payment to $2,000, at a total cost of $464 billion. It would phase out completely only for families of five earning above $350,000. Much of this is going to be saved, not spent, since restaurants are closed and air travel limited. The resources would be far better spent, in terms of both economic equity and economic growth, on longer extension of unemployment benefits, aid to state and local governments, and vaccines.
But if the $2,000 payout is a bad idea, it is a bad idea whose time has come because of politics, not economics. President Trump deserves primary blame, by criticizing the initial $600 per-person version as too small and threatening to veto the stimulus bill. That created an opening for Democrats in Congress, who seek to exploit the proposal’s simplistic appeal to help their party’s two candidates in Georgia’s Jan. 5 Senate runoff.
Especially wrongheaded in this regard is the progressive left, spearheaded by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who depicts the $2,000 as aid to “desperate” Americans despite the huge amounts destined for perfectly comfortable families. Then again, Republican would-be populists such as Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) made common cause with Mr. Sanders; and now at least one other GOP politician with presidential ambitions, Sen. Marco Rubio (Fla.), has jumped on the bandwagon, as have the two Republican Senate candidates in Georgia.
Only the Senate can stop this wasteful policy. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) blocked an immediate vote on the House bill Tuesday, while hinting that he might hold a vote on the $2,000, but linked to Trump-backed provisions that Democrats could not accept: repeal of a law that protects social media companies from liability and an investigation of purported fraud in the 2020 election. Mr. Sanders, meanwhile, threatens to delay a defense-bill veto override, which would keep senators in Washington for New Year’s Eve. Blowing the holiday for senators would be a small price to pay for keeping them from blowing nearly half a trillion taxpayer dollars.