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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters following the Senate Republican policy luncheon on March 10, 2020 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images)

While GOP's Means-Tested Stimulus Aims to 'Screw Poor People,' Progressives Call For Universal Cash Payments

"$2,000 checks every month to every household during the emergency, means test it by raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires," said David Sirota of the Sanders campaign.

Jake Johnson

As Sen. Bernie Sanders and other progressives call for direct and uniform monthly payments to every person in the U.S. amid the coronavirus crisis, Senate Republicans have reportedly put forth a plan designed to ensure that poor people most in need of financial support receive less money than those with higher incomes.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that while stimulus talks between the White House and Congress remain in flux, "one leading GOP plan would offer $1,200 to most taxpayers but only $600 to poor families who pay less in taxes."

"$2,000 checks every month to every household during the emergency, means test it by raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires."
—David Sirota, speechwriter for Sen. Bernie Sanders

"The benefit would begin phasing out for people with more than $75,000 in annual income," the Post reported. It is unclear how the phase-in would work, tweeted the Post's Jeff Stein.

"This is madness, and cruel," Annie Lowrey, staff writer for The Atlantic, said of the Republican proposal.

"Senate GOP on brand as always trying to screw poor people," added Andrew Grinberg of Clean Water Action.

To the dismay of progressives who support universal programs over mean-tested policies, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers have long supported so-called "trapezoid" programs that phase in benefits at the bottom of the income distribution and phase them out at higher incomes.

In a conference call on Wednesday, according to the Post, House Democratic leaders unanimously agreed that "any cash payments should be means-tested to exclude the wealthiest Americans, a sentiment the White House appears to share."

David Sirota, speechwriter for Sen. Bernie Sanders' (I-Vt.) presidential campaign, voiced his frustration with the bipartisan consensus in favor of means-testing over universal programs in a series of tweets on Thursday.

Instead of piling layers of complexity on the front end through means-testing, Sirota argued the federal government should send monthly checks to every household and then raise taxes on the wealthy to ensure a more progressive distribution of income.

"$2,000 checks every month to every household during the emergency, means test it by raising taxes on millionaires and billionaires," Sirota tweeted. "There—I just did the work of 500 Democratic lanyards in Washington who are trying to make good policy seem complex, even when it can be simple."

As Common Dreams reported, Sanders on Tuesday proposed a $2 trillion stimulus plan that would send $2,000 in monthly payments to every American—both children and adults and regardless of income—for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.

Senate Republicans' means-tested proposal comes as the Trump White House is rushing to assemble a $1 trillion fiscal stimulus package as the U.S. economy barrels toward a potentially devastating recession.

In addition to possible direct payments to U.S. households, the White House stimulus proposal is also expected to request tens of billions of dollars in bailout money to industries hit hard by the coronavirus crisis, including airlines, hotels, and casinos.

Politico reported late Wednesday that House Democrats are putting together their own stimulus plan as a "counter-offer."

"The House Democratic plan will incorporate proposals from several panels and is expected to include additional unemployment insurance payments, expanded Medicaid coverage, an airline rescue package, relief for homeowners and renters, support for small businesses, and additional food security measures," Politico noted.

As Common Dreams reported Wednesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has faced criticism from progressives for refusing to support direct cash payments without means-testing.

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) wrote in a series of tweets Thursday that while increased funding for means-tested programs like Medicaid is a laudable and necessary goal, "we must deliver universal funds now!"

"Means-testing inevitably creates more administrative costs, red tape, and the ability for bureaucrats to deny benefits," said Omar. "Universal programs ensure that every American has a stake in our policies—that's why programs like Social Security are so successful."

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