Donald Trump’s 11th-hour effort to persuade Congress to increase the COVID-19 stimulus payments to individuals from $600 to $2,000 should be rejected for several reasons.
There’s the cost: an extra $400 billion on top of the $900 billion that has just been approved after weeks of negotiation.
There’s the lack of targeting that would give the money to those who truly need the additional help. There wasn’t time, with the first relief checks cut last spring, to aim the government assistance at those who have suffered the most from the pandemic, but that’s not the case now.
Giving most American adults $2,000 apiece, including the majority of people who still have their jobs and are no worse off financially than they were before the pandemic, is welfare gone nuts.
There’s the bizarre politics of the move, with Democrats who vilified Trump now joining forces with him on his way out, joined by craven Republicans who are worried about bucking the president, who is still very popular with the populist flank of the GOP, and jeopardizing control of the Senate in next week’s two runoffs in Georgia.
The biggest reason to resist, however, is that there needs to be more thought put into asking something from Americans in return for this kind of payoff. That something is vaccination.
If the country is going to get a handle on the pandemic, the solution rests with most of the population agreeing to be vaccinated. The quicker that happens, the quicker we reach herd immunity and return life — including the economy — back toward normal.
Those who refuse to be vaccinated will prolong the twin health and financial crises, producing more hospitalizations and deaths, and creating the impetus for yet more stimulus payments financed by borrowed money. Government policy should be designed to discourage such behavior. Money — or in this case not receiving money — is such a disincentive.
It also makes sense that if the federal government is going to reward everyone, regardless of financial condition, with a stimulus payment, it should pick a criterion that crosses all socioeconomic boundaries. Vaccination does that. If unvaccinated, a person living in a penthouse is just as likely to be a health threat as a person living in a hovel.
Until COVID-19 vaccines began being distributed, such a “pay-per-shot” stimulus plan would not have been workable. But vaccine production is now gearing up, and hundreds of millions of doses will be made available in coming months. Giving people an incentive to line up for them would be a lot more justifiable expenditure than unconditional stimulus checks.
The $600 Congress has already approved, and that Trump has grudgingly signed, is enough for the moment. Let the next Congress and Joe Biden work out the details for the next installment, should more relief be needed. And if there’s to be a next round, it should be used, at least in part, to get the vaccination rate to a number that will end this plague.