As President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats negotiate with Republican Senators on the next round on COVID-19 relief, they have a wide gap to narrow.
About half of the $1.9 trillion Biden proposes would be direct payments to or unemployment benefits for millions of Americans. The other portion includes aid to reopen schools, funding for state and local governments and money to ramp up COVID-19 testing and vaccine distribution.
The Republican plan costs about one-third ($618 billion) of Biden’s plan. The majority of those funds would be direct payments and unemployment benefits.
Biden’s direct payment plan would cost about $465 billion – more than double the Republican plan’s estimated $220 billion. More Americans would receive checks under the president’s proposal, and the checks would be bigger for eligible taxpayers.
For families of four with adjusted gross incomes below $150,000 and children under 17 years old, two previous programs provided a combined $5,800 in direct aid. Biden’s plan would nearly match that sum. The Republican program offers less aid per family and would begin phasing out for those earning more than $80,000.
The two previous aid plans provided a combined $13,500 to unemployed Americans in addition to their state unemployment benefits. The most recent round of benefits is scheduled to expire in mid-March.
Here, again, the Biden plan is more generous, which means a bigger price tag: a maximum of $11,600 per unemployed worker through September vs. $4,500 through June under the Republican plan.
The Biden plan calls for a doubling of the federal hourly minimum wage from $7.25 to $15. The Republican plan would leave the wage unchanged.
Both proposals would spend equal amounts on COVID-19 assistance (vaccine distribution, testing and protective equipment) and grants and loans to businesses (though divided in different ways). The largest gaps are in amounts earmarked for schools and for state and local governments.
The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget tallied the 10-year deficit impact of all the previous COVID-19 legislation at $3.4 trillion. More money has been appropriated – largely in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act – but was not used.
Even if Biden and Congress settled on the Republican senators’ proposal, COVID-19 relief legislation would surpass $4 trillion in less than a year. That’s nearly a fifth of the $21 trillion national debt held by the public.
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