Will a fourth—or fifth or sixth—stimulus payment appear in your bank account this summer? Despite the swirling rumors, don’t count on more direct payments anytime soon, for the simple reason that Washington is currently immersed elsewhere.
The Biden administration, which spent its first months myopically focused on stabilizing the economy and battling the pandemic, is now looking outward, with a freshly passed bill boosting U.S. competitiveness with China. President Joe Biden is abroad this week (he is currently in Europe), and his stateside efforts are focused on his infrastructure bill, for which talks fell apart yesterday. The sweeping bill would be his legacy, conceptually redefining childcare and social spending as infrastructure. All eyes are now on a group of bipartisan senators who had been preparing a backup plan, while Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer strategizes about how to potentially pass a bill with only Democratic support.
Yet a lot of people and a lot of politicians want more stimulus payments. A petition at Change.org for direct payments has more than 2.3 million signatures, and just three weeks ago, seven members of the House Ways and Means Committee sent a letter to the president pushing for continued payments. This brings the number of congresspeople openly supporting the idea to more than 80. The White House has also remained open to the concept, with press secretary Jen Psaki widely quoted last week saying, “He’s happy to hear from a range of ideas on what would be most effective and what’s most important to the economy moving forward.”
Data also supports further direct payments. A recent University of Michigan study found “sharp declines” in poverty in the months when stimulus payments appeared, thereby preventing the sort of spiraling damage to people’s lives that is difficult to recover from.
So where does this leave us? In politicians’ back pockets. Stimulus payments could easily land in the headlines again when politically beneficial to Democrats. For example, if Biden’s infrastructure efforts go down in flames, another round of stimulus—likely narrower, and targeted at struggling populations—would distract from the embers. Stay tuned.