Back in March, when only one person in South Dakota and 5,300 Americans had died of coronavirus, Congress roared into action, providing well over $2 trillion in economic relief and emergency spending via the CARES Act, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, and the Coronavirus Preparedness and Response Supplemental Appropriations Act to buoy the nation through the building pandemic storm. Now with 1,361 South Dakotans and 318,000 Americans dead from coronavirus, Congress takes months to finagle a fourth relief bill pumping $900 billion into the pandemic-strained economy.
Well, there are fewer of us now, so we don’t need as much stimulus, right?
Politico summarizes the coronavirus relief package and general appropriations package that Congress plans to pass today:
- $600 checks for individuals making up to $75K/year, $1,200 checks for couples making up to $150K, plus $600 per child.
- $300 extra per week to the unemployed through March 14.
- $284 billion more in Paycheck Protection Program checks, $20B for businesses in low-income communities, and $15B for live venues, cinemas, and museums.
- $15 billion to keep airlines afloat, $14B for mass transit, $10B for state highways, $2B for airports, and $1B for Amtrak.
- $13B for food stamps and $13B for farm subsidies (though I have to ask: we’re all still eating, so what losses have farmers suffered due to the pandemic?).
- $20 billion to buy more covid-19 vaccines, $9B to ship the vaccines, and $22B for state testing, tracing and mitigation programs (not for your bank account, Kristi! South Dakota’s coronavirus testing has dropped by more than half since December 1).
- $54 billion for K-12 schools, $23B for higher education, and $10B for child care.
- $7B to expand broadband for students, families, and the unemployed.
And to make sure they can draw Trump out of his funk-bunker long enough to scribble his name on the bill, this package keeps $1.4B for border wall construction. It also includes one major policy priority for which the White House vigorously pressed—a tax break for corporate meal expenses:
President Donald Trump has for months talked about securing the deduction – derisively referred to as the “three-martini lunch” by critics – as a way to revive the restaurant industry badly battered by the pandemic.
But critics said it would do little to help struggling restaurants and would largely benefit business executives who do not urgently need help at this time. Some Democrats recoiled at the proposal, though it has also been denounced as ineffective by conservative tax experts.
Democratic leaders agreed to the provision in exchange for Republicans agreeing to expand tax credits for low-income families and the working poor in the final package, according to a Democratic aide who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share details of internal negotiations.
“Republicans are nickel-and-diming benefits for jobless workers, while at the same time pushing for tax breaks for three-martini power lunches. It’s unconscionable,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee.
…Since the 1980s, businesses have been able to deduct 50% of their meal expenses off their federal taxes. A proposal championed by the White House and Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., would increase that deduction to 100%, allowing companies to deduct the full cost of a business meal off their federal taxes.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin included the meal deduction as a White House priority in negotiations, two people with knowledge of matter said. A Treasury Department spokeswoman declined to comment [Jeff Stein, “White House Secures ‘Three Martini Lunch’ Tax Deduction in Draft of Coronavirus Relief Package,” Washington Post, via Seattle Times, 2020.12.20].
Let the clink of those martini glasses punctuate the story of King Don’s mad reign. But let’s take his signature and put the fiscal force of the federal government to work in helping our neighbors.