A left side idea has moved into the center of the debate about help in the corona crisis in the USA in recent months, or rather: actively pushed. “Twitter is not real life,” moderate Democrats had warned in 2019 against the online particularly active and also over-represented in the said short message service supporters of Bernie Sanders in view of his primary election defeat.
But sometimes left online activism can be successful, one could add as a finding from 2020. For months, the party left mobilized with tweets, memes and cynical comments – in short, a real campaign – for the “2,000 dollar checks”. Now they could soon become a reality.
After the $ 600 direct money payments, which were decided in the US Congress at the end of December, there should be another $ 1,400 for every American under Joe Biden, as part of the new president’s $ 1.9 trillion aid package against the Corona -Pandemic. According to the logic of the Biden team, this fulfills the promise of $ 2,000.
“2000 dollars means 2000 dollars and not 1400”, summarized the progressive Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in relation to the Washington Post, her criticism of it. Together with other party links, she put pressure for higher payments, as in the previous months.
Direct money payments have been part of the political debate in the US for months. The major parliamentary aid package against the corona crisis of March 2020, the CARES Act, contained them because of pressure from progressive Democrats: direct money payments of $ 1,200 for adults and $ 500 for children. The economic stimulus instrument was thus part of the “public imagination”. The US left immediately set about demanding new “checks” – and bigger ones.
The democratic socialist Bernie Sanders even demanded, similar to the German ZeroCovid initiative, which propagates consistent corona containment accompanied by massive welfare state measures, monthly payments of 2,000 dollars for the course of the pandemic. This should be linked to free pandemic health care. The $ 2,000 direct money payments became a catchy slogan.
During the negotiations in the US Senate on a renewed aid package against the corona crisis in the fall of last year, the Republicans, who actually only wanted to help companies, poured plenty of water on the idea. Moderate Democrats like Joe Biden were only too happy to make concessions. The corona crisis aid package negotiated by all parties just before Christmas was only left with a direct money payment of $ 600.
But the subsequent intervention by Donald Trump, who wanted to wipe out a feud with Mitch McConnell, the top Republican in the US Senate, created a new political dynamic almost overnight. The $ 600 is “ridiculously low,” said Trump. Only hours later, the Democratic party leadership around Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer reacted, put pressure on the Republicans, and declared that it was now possible to pass a “cross-party” resolution of $ 2,000. The party left Ocasio-Cortez wrote a short draft law in no time at all.
In the US Senate, Bernie Sanders declared that he would use procedural tricks to delay the urgently needed passage of the budget law until there was a vote on the checks, but had to give way shortly before New Year’s Eve. Georgia Democrat candidates Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock campaigned offensively with the measure.
Joe Biden also adopted the idea, declaring that if the Georgia Democrats win “the checks will go out.” Ossoff and Warnock actually won what political strategists see as evidence of the effectiveness of progressive messaging and “universal” social policy. It is still unclear when the checks will actually be approved.
Checks to all Americans cost over $ 400 billion. Around the turn of the year, liberal and left-wing liberal economists debated whether there might not be better ways to help suffering Americans, such as more funding for social programs for supposedly “really needy” people. In fact, there is, for example, the SNAP grocery stamp program was increased by 15 percent – a measure that new President Joe Biden wants to extend. Barack Obama’s ex-Treasury Secretary Larry Summer said the payments were “a terrible idea.”
The economist Paul Krugman is skeptical of the idea. He argued resignedly that more aid for the unemployed is actually more important, but not popular enough and “politically invisible”. The checks would help to ensure that an aid package with numerous other measures for those in need is accepted by the population.
Left-wing advocates of the »checks«, on the other hand, held that, unlike welfare state programs with complicated and sometimes humiliating applications that deter or overwhelm some entitled persons, they would provide help quickly and easily.
The left think tank Institute for Taxation And Economic Policy (ITEP) calculated in an analysis how much low-wage earners in particular would benefit from direct money payments of $ 2,000. The poorest 20 percent of Americans with an annual income of less than $ 21,000 would have 29 percent more money to spend in the year. The bottom 60 percent put together eleven percent.
In contrast to Sanders and the supporters of the neo-social democratic Modern Monetary Theory, who provide aid in the USA through debt-financed welfare state investments and at the same time want to generate economic growth, Krugman and the Democratic Senator Joe Manchin assume a “limited cake”, tight budget funds that it to distribute.
“Absolutely not,” Manchin said when asked by a Washington Post journalist whether he supported the $ 2,000 direct money payment. Providing funds for a faster corona vaccination is more important. And he also used an argument with which many Republicans oppose the checks: It was immediately clear that the wealthy would also receive $ 2,000 – the checks are reduced in three steps if the annual income exceeds $ 75,000.
Because the Democrats in the US Senate only have a slim majority of 51 to 49 votes with the swearing in of the new Democratic Senators from Georgia and with the help of Vice President Kamala Harris, Manchin’s vote may be decisive. In the past, moderates like him were able to make concessions in their own interests by threatening non-consent.
Even if there might be a few Republican votes in the US Senate – the social-populist conservative Josh Hawley, for example, has spoken out in favor of the checks in the past: the reaction of left-wing parties to Machin’s remarks came quickly and they were angry.
“The Democrats don’t have time to tailor their agenda around Joe Manchin’s wishes,” Corbyn Trent said. The ex-press spokesman for Ocasio-Cortez and other progressives founded the left-wing Super Pac “No Excuses”, which wants to run radio ads against Manchin in his rather conservative home state of West Virginia. In it, the Senator is portrayed as a brake on an idea that “even President Trump supports”.
A short time later, Manchin rowed back – apparently in view of the backlash against his testimony and the cross-party popularity of the payments. Polls show a high level of support among all voter groups, i.e. Democrats, Independents and Republicans. Manchin evasively stated in the CNN interview that he was in favor of “helping the Americans.” It seems doubtful whether Manchin will be the only Democrat to vote against the plan in case of doubt. Whether the Democrats take the risk, too.
The $ 1,400 checks, like Joe Biden’s entire program against the corona crisis, could become a reality either in the normal parliamentary process with Republican loan votes in the US Senate or via the parliamentary technique of “budget reconciliation”, the passage through budget legislation. According to the Biden team, this should be used quickly if there are not enough Republican votes.
The expert in the application of this budget vote, which only requires a simple majority of 51 votes, is the new Chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. It could be the end of March, albeit perhaps in a slimmed down, reduced form, if moderates like Manchin prevail.
Also read: Joe Biden wants to break with Donald Trump’s policies. But that won’t always be easy
In the House of Representatives, the Democrats have had a narrow majority with only 221 MPs since the beginning of the year, but before Christmas 44 Trump-loyal Republicans also voted for the CASH Act to pay out direct payments. Because two dozen Republicans would rather not vote against the payments and not show up, that meant a two-thirds majority for the project at the time. Only two conservative Democrats voted “No”, but 231 voted “Yes”.