Joe Biden won the 2020 election in part because he promised voters $2000 relief checks–and I say “relief,” because, for many people, they are simply rent checks. A one-time payment of $2000 will pay for rent for a month or two or for two or three months of food for a family of 4. In expensive cities, of course, it won’t go nearly as far.
Biden may equivocate about whether he meant $1400 checks or $2000 checks, but we all heard $2000, and that matters. Aside from the fact that offering Americans relief checks is the morally right thing to do, it’s the politically smart thing to do. Here’s why:
- 80,000 people died of COVID in January, for about 100,000 dead in Biden’s first month in office. By March, a new, more infectious, possibly more deadly, variant of the coronavirus will be the dominant version of the virus in the US. The AstraZeneca vaccine appears to be sufficiently ineffective against it. And even effective vaccines prevent infection of the original strain in just 95% of the population, which means 1/20 people who are vaccinated are still vulnerable. By the time we get the 60% of the population willing to be vaccinated vaccinated, it’s time for our booster. We have no vaccine for adolescents or children. Though we’re vaccinating people every day, we’re far behind on our goals. And, like vaccines for most illnesses, the COVID vaccines that do work well don’t seem to achieve sterilizing immunity. Research so far isn’t particularly promising about infectivity post-vaccination, which means we’ll have to pair vaccination with other measures (including some that have been very unpopular in the US so far) to contain the pandemic. That means that people who may be immune because of their vaccination will still be able to spread the virus, including to children we’ll be eager to send back to school once more adults are safe to work. It’s a recipe for an increase in cases, even as vaccinations will, hopefully, push infection and death rates lower. When this pandemic doesn’t end, or even if it shifts from a pandemic to an endemic, Biden will be blamed, especially by anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers who have refused to participate in basic safety protocols but also by every day people simply very tired of the pandemic. Paying people to stay home is a key tool in the fight against the pandemic. Democrats will be called socialists no matter what. If they use direct payments to save lives, perhaps (and maybe I’m naive about this!), the word “socialist” will come to be seen as someone who seeks to use the public coffer for the general welfare of the people (the Constitutional duty of our leaders), thus improving the lives of people and the profile of social welfare programs. In other words: $2000 checks can warm people up to the idea that their taxes should be used to care for others, which can make it easier to reach other political goals, like single payer healthcare and fully funding public education.
- It’s also necessary to support the loads of women who have left the workforce to care for children and others during this pandemic. Women flocked to Biden, in part because Harris was on the ticket. Pay them what they need to make this situation liveable for them. It was Black women, as both organizers and voters, who pushed the race in his favor, while white women voted for Trump in higher numbers in 2020 than in 2016. If Biden can give all women a reason to believe that Democrats care about them, he can pull more white women into the party.
- Trump offered $2000 checks. Whether he was serious or not, people will remember that Trump, not Joe Biden, seemed to care more about their need for direct cash payments.
- Mitt Romney is forwarding a proposal for child subsidies to families that is both inadequate and also radical for the US, which has set tax priorities that show our contempt for children. Biden can steal the goodwill this will foster among a broad swath of the public and also undermine Romney’s effort to rehabilitate the Republican party by offering immediate payment and then a long-term plan to provide the same or better subsidies. Otherwise, Republicans looking to put the Trump years behind them will have an advocate more compassionate than Biden in their corner.
People won’t forget that Joe Biden made this promise. Republicans certainly won’t. Joe Biden faces this choice: send checks, or plan for the 2022 and 2024 campaigns in which Republicans hammer it home that Joe Biden didn’t keep his promise, Joe Biden didn’t support women, Joe Biden doesn’t really care about the working class–and that both the Trump and Romney wings of the Republican party would have. Leftists already believe these bad things about Joe Biden; Republicans don’t need to win them over–they just need to discourage leftists from voting at all. And moderates will have every reason to believe them, because Biden will have shown them to be true.
$2000 is a cheap promise to keep but an expensive one to break. Democrats delay at their peril.