Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warns Biden is making a big mistake in the COVID relief bill

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez warns Biden is making a big mistake in the COVID relief bill
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez // Senate Democrats, CC BY 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday strongly pushed back against a move by Senate Democrats and President Joe Biden to further restrict the number of people who will receive direct payments under the emerging coronavirus aid package, warning the new eligibility structure would deny direct relief to people who received checks during Donald Trump's presidency.

"I don't understand the political or economic wisdom in allowing Trump to give more people relief checks than a Democratic administration. People went far too long without relief last year," the New York Democrat told the Washington Post's Jeff Stein. "If anything we should be more generous, not more stingy."

"It's also an insensitive compromise for the roughly 80% of Americans that live in urban areas, which are known for higher costs of living," Ocasio-Cortez added.

According to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), the new eligibility framework pushed by conservative Senate Democrats and accepted by the party leadership and the president would result in around 12 million fewer adults and five million fewer children receiving direct payments compared to the eligibility structure proposed by the House.

"We have a responsibility to show people in this country what a Democratic majority can do for working people," Ocasio-Cortez added. "That means more generous relief checks, $15 min wage, ending the filibuster to protect our democracy. It's a once-in-generation shot, and we need to legislate like it."

Under Senate Democrats' newly adopted framework, individuals earning $75,000 per year or less and married couples earning $150,000 or less—based on either 2019 or 2020 income—would still receive full $1,400 payments, but the checks would phase out more quickly for people whose earnings exceed those thresholds.

The new plan would completely deny payments to individuals earning more than $80,000 annually and married couples earning more than $160,000.

As the New York Times reported, "the change in the upper limit being discussed in the Senate, if adopted, would mean that some people who got a check during the Trump administration would not get one under Mr. Biden."

"Nearly nine million households that would have received at least some amount of payment under the House bill would not receive any payment at all," the Times noted, citing an estimate from tax modeling specialist Kyle Pomerleau of the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank.

Pomerleau said the eligibility change would slash around $15 to $20 billion off the top-line cost of the relief legislation, a small fraction of the $1.9 trillion total.

Brian Beutler, editor-in-chief of Crooked Media, called the eligibility rollback "an absurd, stupid decision," echoing Ocasio-Cortez's concern about the possible political consequences of millions of people being denied direct relief payments under Biden and a Democratic Congress after receiving checks under Trump.

"It should be pretty straightforward to tabulate the number of Democratic voters in Georgia who will not get their supplemental $1,400 checks under this plan, and compare it to the vote margins in the Ossoff and Warnock races," Beutler tweeted, referring to the two senators whose electoral victories in January handed Democrats control of the Senate.

"Or to be more precise," Beutler added, "the number of voters who will be getting no supplemental check at all who were supposed to get one somewhere on the sliding scale."

The change to the eligibility framework comes despite loud progressive warnings that excessively means testing direct relief amid a pandemic and economic crisis would be politically, economically, and morally foolish. Some analysts have argued Congress should approve universal checks and tax high earners on the back end, a proposal that Democratic lawmakers never put on the table.

"Further 'targeting' or 'tightening' eligibility means taking survival checks away from millions of families who got them last time," Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, tweeted earlier this week. "That's bad policy and bad politics, too."

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