Stimulus Checks Helped Democrats Win Before, But Might Be Hurting Them Now

by | Nov 7, 2022 | Politics

Democrats won the U.S. Senate in 2021 after a special election in which candidates Raphael Warnock and Jon Osssoff of Georgia promised to support bigger stimulus checks if they got elected.Their victories gave Democrats control of the Senate and paved the way for another round of checks — plus an infrastructure bill, a gun control bill and a green energy bill, among other accomplishments.AdvertisementNow, Republicans are using the stimulus checks to try to take control of the House and Senate in this week’s midterm elections. In talking points, press releases and campaign ads around the country, Republican candidates have blasted Democrats for allowing people in state or federal prison to receive the money. “Every Senate Democrat, even Raphael Warnock, voted to give stimulus checks to convicted criminals in jail,” Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), chair of the National Senate Republican Campaign Committee, said in a fundraising video earlier this year. A political action committee aligned with House Republicans launched an ad last month blasting Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.) for voting “to send nearly $1 billion in stimulus checks to criminals like the Boston Bomber.”AdvertisementAnd an ad by the National Republican Campaign Committee slams Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) for voting for “for trillions in reckless spending higher taxes on working families – even stimulus checks to criminals.”The ads are accurate, but not honest. They omit the key fact that Republicans, too, voted to send stimulus checks to convicted criminals. At the outset of the pandemic in March 2020, everyone wanted relief checks to go to as many households as possible, and Republicans even supported sending money to people with no work income, which was unprecedented. The IRS tried to exclude prisoners from receiving checks, but in October 2020 a court ordered the agency to send prisoners the money because Congress had not actually said in the law that prisoners weren’t eligible. When Congress passed another pandemic relief bill with stimulus checks in December, Republicans still didn’t try to exclude prisoners. Then, after Joe Biden became president, Republicans stopped supporting stimulus checks — for anybody. As Democrats geared up to pass the American Rescue Plan, Republicans offered an amendment that would have barred prisoners from receiving checks. “Prisoners have all their living and medical expenses paid for by the taxpayer,” Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) said on the Senate floor in March 2020. “They don’t pay taxes. They don’t contribute to the tax base. They can’t be unemployed. In other words, inmates are not economically impacted by COVID, and inmates cannot stimulate the economy.”AdvertisementSen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) responded that Cassidy’s amendment to exclude prisoners would harm inmates’ families. “Children should not be forced to go hungry because a parent is incarcerated.” Durbin said. “Relief payments would allow families to replace lost income and pay rent and put food on the table.”Every Senate Democrat voted against the amendment and every Republican voted for it. Another concern, a Democratic aide told HuffPost, was that adding the restriction would have slowed down the process of distributing checks, since information about a tax filer’s incarceration status wasn’t as readily available to the IRS as details about the filer’s income. At the time, the unemployment rate was twice as high as it is now, and Democrats worried the economy would recover too slowly. Now, amid the worst price inflation in decades and Republicans favored with win the House and possibly the Senate, Democrats are campaigning largely on protecting abortion access and not saying as much about the dramatic economic relief they provided most U.S. households last year. The American Rescue Plan helped head off the kind of slow, low-wage recovery that haunted the economy after the Great Recession, but the extra spending likely contributed to inflation. AdvertisementIn a Fox News op-ed last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) defended the bill as a good piece of legislation responding to a health and economic crisis. “I apologize to no one that we provide …

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