Biden’s First 50 Days

A way-too-early assessment of how it's going.

President Joe Biden signs two executive orders on healthcare Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021, in the Oval Office of the White House.
Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

Business Insider’s John Haltiwanger argues, “Biden inherited a mess, but his first 50 days as president have been a historic success.” I largely agree, with some quibbles.

President Joe Biden was inaugurated two weeks after a violent insurrection at the Capitol and at the height of a pandemic that had already claimed over 400,000 American lives and dealt serious damage to the economy by the time he was sworn in.

I would argue that this is the worst starting point for any modern President; you’d have to go back to Abraham Lincoln taking over on the eve of a by-then-unavoidable Civil War for a serious contender. Then again, there’s nowhere to go but up.

But 50 days into his presidency, Biden already has a major legislative achievement under his belt. The House on Wednesday passed his $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package, which economists have predicted will provide a massive jolt to the economy. The White House said Biden is set to sign the bill — one of the largest economic relief measures in US history — on Friday. 

Here, I would quibble. Sure, it’s a massive bill pushed through on a party-line vote. But it’s mostly just handing out borrowed money. While I expect the one-year child credit to become the seeds for a permanent program, it’s not yet a fundamental restructuring in the way ObamaCare, much less Social Security, was. It’s not even the Reagan tax cuts.

Biden, who was in the Senate for decades before becoming vice president in the Obama administration and eventually president, campaigned on bringing “consensus” back to Washington. He’s failing miserably on that front so far, as not a single Republican voted in favor of the stimulus. That said, he still got it done. And polling shows a strong majority of Americans support the rescue package.

Here’s my more fundamental disagreement: it’s silly to blame Biden for “failing miserably” on getting the opposition party to engage in normal politics. He would happily have negotiated with them had they shown the slightest inclination.

And, more of a quibble, the fact that getting free money is popular is hardly surprising. That doesn’t make it good policy. (The Trump stimulus was similarly expensive and untargeted but the economic shutdown at that point in the crisis was so crushing that it overkill was the lesser of evils. It’s not obvious that’s still the case.)

Still, this is fair:

Democrats are portraying the $1.9. trillion package as a historic anti-poverty measure.

Early analysis of the legislation found it primarily benefits middle and low-income households, and suggests it could drastically reduce poverty in the US. The non-partisan Urban Institute projected that the bill would reduce the annual poverty rate to 8.7% percent, as opposed to 13.7% without the legislation.  

That’s huge although, again, a one-shot that could certainly have been achieved far more cheaply with more reasonable means-testing. It’s silly to argue that couples making $149,000 should get stimulus checks. That’s a solid income anywhere in the country.

The ultimate impact of Biden’s $1.9 trillion bill remains to be seen and the president has faced criticism from progressives for not fighting harder to keep a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15

The votes just didn’t exist. Even if Democrats fired the Senate parliamentarian who ruled that this measure didn’t meet the requirements for the reconciliation bypass, at least two Senate Democrats were publicly opposed to the measure. I’m not sure how hard Biden was supposed to “fight” if it meant alienating Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema.

Regardless, the stimulus stands as among the most significant legislative accomplishments of any recent president in their first 100 days. It’s akin to the roughly $800 billion economic relief package former President Barack Obama signed roughly a month into his tenure amid the Great Recession, which has been credited with staving off a second Great Depression.

Again, I’m not sure that an emergency spending bill—even one used as a vehicle to ram through programs you wanted to pass, anyway—is the same a passing permanent programs. And, while the forms would certainly have been different, we would almost certainly have gotten a massive stimulus under a President McCain and another one now under a re-elected Trump. (Indeed, he was pushing for one.)

Seeking to emulate the standard set by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during the Great Depression, Biden placed great emphasis on putting a significant dent in the COVID-19 crisis in his first 100 days. The stimulus is set to play a key role in this, and could be viewed as an inflection point in America’s fight against the virus in the days, months, and years to come. With the pace of vaccination increasing across the US, Americans are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel almost a year after lockdowns first began

Here, again, I quibble only slightly. Trump was simply awful in his management of COVID in pretty much every conceivable way and Biden has been simply outstanding. Full stop.

That said, I don’t think it’s fair to credit him for much of the increase in vaccination rates in these early days—any more than it’s fair to blame him for the rapidly-escalating death toll in his early days in office. These things simply don’t turn on a dime and, even as bad as Trump was, the vaccination curve was on a massive upturn.

Where Biden gets credit is for the longer haul. Not only has he done a much better job in setting the example and issuing executive orders to demonstrate seriousness (if, frankly, some overkill in such things as mandates to wear masks outdoors on federal installations) but he has been far more aggressive in ramping up vaccine purchases. I don’t think we’ve seen much, if any, benefit from the latter yet but the payoff will be huge.

Biden still faces a slew of convoluted challenges on the road ahead, and the pandemic is far from over. On the foreign policy front, there are significant roadblocks to Biden’s plan to restore the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. He’s also faced bipartisan criticism from congressional lawmakers over the first major military action of his presidency — airstrikes targeting Iran-backed militias in Syria in late February. Meanwhile, a surge in migrants at the border is complicating Biden’s pledge to take a more humane approach to immigration than his predecessor.

This is doubtless true. Being President is harder that campaigning for President. Biden inherited realities and can’t simply snap his fingers to return to the end of the Obama administration. I trust him infinitely more than I do Trump to handle all these crises but none have an easy, quick fix.

FILED UNDER: Joe Biden, US Politics
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    Well, FDR inherited the Great Depression, which I’d argue was serious: a collapsed banking system, over 25% unemployment, production at 1/3 the level it had been in 1929…

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  2. mistermix says:

    It’s silly to argue that couples making $149,000 should get stimulus checks. That’s a solid income anywhere in the country.

    It’s not silly to point out that the $149K number is probably from the 2019 tax return, and scores of folks lost their jobs in 2020. Plus, for any of these benefits, there’s always the option of taxing it back if it wasn’t merited.

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  3. mattbernius says:

    As usual, I largely agree with most of what you wrote James (I’ll leave the means-testing thing aside for the moment). One thing you wrote struck a particular chord:

    Here’s my more fundamental disagreement: it’s silly to blame Biden for “failing miserably” on getting the opposition party to engage in normal politics. He would happily have negotiated with [Republicans] had they shown the slightest inclination.

    100% true. What’s also particularly sad about this is there is already at least one Republican Senator who appears to be trying to get credit for the *passage* of this legislation.

    https://www.wlbt.com/2021/03/10/wicker-praises-covid-relief-despite-voting-against-it/

    In a slight bit of fairness, he cosponsored an Amendment that provides relief to restaurants, which is a good thing. However, he also ended up *voting against* said amendment in the name of party unity.

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  4. mattbernius says:

    Ok, since @mistermix opened the door…

    It’s not silly to point out that the $149K number is probably from the 2019 tax return, and scores of folks lost their jobs in 2020. Plus, for any of these benefits, there’s always the option of taxing it back if it wasn’t merited.

    100% this. Part of the challenge with means-testing is that it’s typically not suited to an emergency situation and can create an administrative burden that is more costly than simply providing the aid.

    Being somewhat near the front lines of this due to the work we do at Code for American, I can say we have seen this across multiple social services over the last year.

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  5. Nightcrawler says:

    @mistermix:

    Exactly. There are millions of households that made that much or more in 2019, but now they’re teetering on foreclosure.

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  6. James Joyner says:

    @CSK:

    Well, FDR inherited the Great Depression

    Oh, absolutely. But I’d argue that the combination of a massive pandemic and the QAnon/Stop the Steal thing is worse, because it makes it next to impossible to govern.

    @mistermix:@Nightcrawler:

    It’s not silly to point out that the $149K number is probably from the 2019 tax return, and scores of folks lost their jobs in 2020. Plus, for any of these benefits, there’s always the option of taxing it back if it wasn’t merited.

    I’d actually be perfectly fine with that. But, if we’re going to do that, why even have a phase-out? Someone who made $150,000 in 2019 and making $0 is in terrible shape, too. I’d rather be too generous on the front end and then claw back the benefits on the back end where we overshot. But my understanding is that we’re not doing that; it’s just free money for everyone.

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  7. Nightcrawler says:

    we would almost certainly have gotten a massive stimulus under a President McCain and another one now under a re-elected Trump. (Indeed, he was pushing for one.)

    He was pushing for one hoping he’d get reelected. He kept pushing after the election because he thought it would help him overturn the results.

    If DT had been reelected, that “promise” would have evaporated as quickly as all the “promises” Biden is making right now will evaporate if the GOP seizes power back in 2024.

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  8. MarkedMan says:

    In general, I agree with you James, but a couple of quibbles with your quibbles.

    It’s silly to argue that couples making $149,000 should get stimulus checks. That’s a solid income anywhere in the country.

    The reason for them to get stimulus checks is political, not financial, but that doesn’t make it any less important. Dems have finally learned the lesson that the reason Republicans insist on means test everything is so they can campaign on the fact that the Dems “take money from you (the middle class) to give to the shiftless and lazy. It was a Lucy-and-the-football type mistake to keep falling for this sleazy tactic and I’m glad they have gotten over it.

    I think you are dramatically underestimating just how bad the vaccine distribution program was when Trump left office. My state (Maryland) and many others stopped scheduling vaccines more than a couple of days ahead because we were not getting the vaccines promised and the Trump administration was out and out lying saying everything promised had been delivered. When Biden came into office he found that the people in charge of the distribution literally could not account for the whereabouts of the vaccines that had been delivered. Remember when a Trump minion publicly stated that the reason we only had a fraction of the doses promised was because Pfizer (Moderna?) was having production problems, only to have the manufacturer immediately respond that they had delivered everything as promised, on schedule? At the time I thought it was a typical Trumpian lie, i.e. no need to put even a veneer of fact over it because mindless Trumpers will accept anything Fox News repeats. But once the Biden people revealed just how little effort was behind the distribution I changed my mind. I suspect that at some point we are going to find that millions of doses are either lost in warehouses with no paperwork to identify them or their location, or that they have been diverted to some of, say, Kushner’s Middle East Bailout Buddies. I notice that all citizens in the UAE have already been vaccinated. It’s probably a combination of both.

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  9. Mikey says:

    @mattbernius:

    Part of the challenge with means-testing is that it’s typically not suited to an emergency situation and can create an administrative burden that is more costly than simply providing the aid.

    Also, if the objective is to stimulate economic activity, you send a check to as many people as possible without regards to means testing.

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  10. Mikey says:

    @Mikey: I would edit to add, if there were an edit button: Well, not entirely–obviously a $1400 check isn’t going to matter to the super-wealthy. But even people with relatively high incomes who work regularly for a wage would be able to make use of a stimulus payment.

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  11. MarkedMan says:

    @Mikey: I’m not so sure. The reason the past stimulus checks sent to my wife and I had any effect at all is that we immediately donated them to a local food bank. Despite that, our savings rate has gone up significantly. We normally take a half dozen trips a year and eat out a lot when we are on them, putting money back in the economy. Since the pandemic we have taken two trips to a cabin in the woods and did all our own cooking.

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  12. Gustopher says:

    Here’s my more fundamental disagreement: it’s silly to blame Biden for “failing miserably” on getting the opposition party to engage in normal politics. He would happily have negotiated with them had they shown the slightest inclination.

    I would measure this a massive success — the Democrats have learned from the Obama years to not wait for the Republicans.

    And, there are amendments in the legislation that are bipartisan, even if the final vote wasn’t. The restaurant support that @mattbernius mentions Wicker taking credit for, and cosponsoring, despite then voting against. So, there’s some bipartisanship, if we must judge Biden on that.

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  13. Gustopher says:

    @James Joyner:

    Oh, absolutely. But I’d argue that the combination of a massive pandemic and the QAnon/Stop the Steal thing is worse, because it makes it next to impossible to govern.

    The insurrection has mostly just evaporated, thankfully.

    Since Biden’s AG was only just confirmed (and that was thanks to the Dems noticing Republicans were off the floor and ramming through a cloture vote overriding Haley’s hold), it’s too early to judge the administration on how they are handling it.

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  14. Mikey says:

    @MarkedMan: Of course each individual recipient would handle the check in the way they see best for them, but in the aggregate economic activity would increase.

    Certainly there are plenty of households making $120K that don’t “need” a check, but it’s good they get one anyway. And if they really do need one, so much the better.

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  15. Scott F. says:

    And, more of a quibble, the fact that getting free money is popular is hardly surprising. That doesn’t make it good policy.

    Perhaps at some point you can provide an operational definition of “free money” so my skin doesn’t crawl every time the phrase is used.

    Are FEMA disbursements free money? How about subsidies for energy, transportation, or agriculture? How about tax incentives for business development?

    Since government doesn’t create a product or offer a service that can be sold (exceptions for corruption noted), all spending is either from debt or redistribution. Therefore, the popularity of all government appropriation hinges on who sees the benefit and who bears the cost. The popularity of the COVID relief bill lies in the understanding that the benefits will accrue to people who are, for the most part, genuinely in need of relief, while the costs will be deferred, as they were with Trump’s tax cuts and as they are with all manner of deficit spending every day. There’s no “free money” dynamic with this bill that doesn’t hold true across the board for government spending.

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  16. Scott F. says:

    @Mikey @MarkedMan: My wife and I each received the $1200 check from round 1 in 2020 even though we didn’t “need” the money as my job was adaptable to work from home and my pay was uninterrupted. We donated that $2400 to an anti-poverty not for profit and I was able to get a company match as well. $4800 went directly into the hands of a worthy charity. A much better outcome to my eyes than had those funds remained in the control of the Trump administration.

    We’ll end up getting a partial pay-out this round. We’re planning to donate that (with another company match) to a deserving performing arts organization.

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  17. James Joyner says:

    @Scott F.: “The government sending checks to just about everybody” is in a different category than bailing out people whose home got destroyed in a flood or buying more cruise missiles. “Medicare for All” is incredibly popular so long as there is no trade-off (higher taxes for me or limiting choices I have now).

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  18. MarkedMan says:

    @Mikey: I’m not 100% disagreeing, just noting that the $1200 ($2400?) for us might have easily sat in a bank, while if it went to someone struggling to get by with a couple of kids it might have gone to a local mom for daycare so they could take on more hours, while the daycare provider would in turn used the money to bring her car to a local mechanic to get it fixed, who in turn would have spent that money on keeping the new mechanic on staff, and so on. Money that is actively turning over does more good for an economy than money sitting in the bank, at least if you define economy to include poor people.

    3
  19. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I think you are dramatically underestimating just how bad the vaccine distribution program was when Trump left office. My state (Maryland) and many others stopped scheduling vaccines more than a couple of days ahead because we were not getting the vaccines promised and the Trump administration was out and out lying saying everything promised had been delivered. When Biden came into office he found that the people in charge of the distribution literally could not account for the whereabouts of the vaccines that had been delivered.

    The “we’re starting from scratch” business turned out to be vastly overstated. Again, I much prefer Biden being in charge for all manner of reasons. I have no doubt that things are being more competently managed. But let’s not pretend that the effects were instantaneous; it just doesn’t work that way.

    1
  20. Nightcrawler says:

    Here’s a thought: If the GOP had handled this crisis properly to begin with, and not told everyone it was fake news, muh 99% survival rate, no worse than da fluuuuu, etc., the crisis would be much more under control now, and we would have had the time to means-test all stimulus payments after the first one.

    I’m normally a tightwad, but we’re literally living through the apocalypse. It’s impossible to overspend in response to an apocalypse. Fiscal conservatism is prudent when times are good, but not during times of crisis.

    This is a good example of why I shun -isms, -ists, and -ians. I guess you could call me politically non-binary. I don’t support ideologies. Instead, I support individual policies according to what makes sense given a certain set of circumstances.

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  21. Monala says:

    @mistermix: if they do their 2020 taxes and their income has declined, they will both receive the 2020 stimuluses (stimuli?) as a refund, and qualify for the new stimulus.

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  22. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: Care to bet a drink on us finding out within, say, one year that the Trumpers lost or diverted at least one million doses?

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  23. Slugger says:

    I remember the stimulus checks that Bush 43 sent out in 2003; I got $600. My income was quite good at that time, and I spent the money on recreational equipment. Actually, Bush had at least two rounds of tax cuts. Interestingly, they did not appear to improve the economy. https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/USA/united-states/gdp-growth-rate
    The GDP growth was better under Clinton than Bush. There are a thousand reasons for this, but it clearly doesn’t support the economic ideas that people have been telling me.

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  24. Monala says:

    @mistermix: In addition, “clawing it back at tax time” isn’t a good option without restructuring how the stimulus is accounted for in the tax return. It’s considered an advanced tax credit, so it doesn’t increase anyone’s income. To “claw it back,” you’d have to declare the money as income. That would cause problems, because you might have a lot of people at much lower income levels for whom the stimulus puts them in a higher tax bracket, increasing their taxes.

    And if you create income limits over which the “claw it back” provision applies (to prevent lower income folks from owing taxes due to jumping tax brackets), you’re back to the means testing you decried initially.

    And if you say, “well, folks whose income went down will be below that limit, so the claw-backs won’t affect them when they file” — guess what, that’s true right now.

  25. Monala says:

    @mattbernius: I’ve done some work with some of your Code for America colleagues. Good folks!

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  26. Monala says:

    @mistermix: I will also add that the stimulus check portion of this act greatly improves things for lower income levels. In 2020 a married couple with two young kids and $160k in income received $5800 in stimulus ($2400 + $1000 for the first, $600 x 4 for the second). A single mom supporting a 17-year-old, a college student, and a disabled relative on $40k only received $1800, because she got no money for any of her dependents. Now someone in the same situation will receive $5600 ($1400 x4) because 17yos and adult dependents are included in the stimulus, plus the 17yo now qualifies for the Child Tax Credit of $3k (17yos were excluded before). So she’ll be better off by $8600.

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  27. Monala says:

    @Monala: Numbers-wise, an additional 26 million people qualify for the stimulus who didn’t before, including 17-year-olds, adult dependents (college students, many elderly and disabled people), and US citizens married to non-citizens and their children. This is a net 10 million more people (after subtracting the people who no longer qualify due to the upper income limits) getting stimulus than before; 92% of Americans will now get the stimulus.

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  28. Andy says:

    @Scott F.:

    Therefore, the popularity of all government appropriation hinges on who sees the benefit and who bears the cost. The popularity of the COVID relief bill lies in the understanding that the benefits will accrue to people who are, for the most part, genuinely in need of relief, while the costs will be deferred, as they were with Trump’s tax cuts and as they are with all manner of deficit spending every day. There’s no “free money” dynamic with this bill that doesn’t hold true across the board for government spending.

    It’s “free money” because it’s being appropriated out of thin air and distributed to a majority of Americans with no strings attached and zero tradeoffs (at least in the short term). Of course, that is popular. You stated, correctly, that popularity is about both benefits and costs – well the point here is that the cost side of that equation is zero.

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  29. Monala says:

    @Monala: I’m also not sure why anyone thinks that someone unhappy about no longer qualifying for stimulus checks, would be less unhappy having to pay it back at tax time.

  30. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I don’t understand why you think, say, an oil drilling credit to Exxon doesn’t qualify as being “appropriated out of thin air”. Whether it’s an outlay or a credit it results in the same shortfall. I’ve been around this site long enough to know you understand that a hundred dollar bill put into someone’s pocket directly or through a tax credit is indistinguishable when it comes time for Joe Hedge Fund to pay for that middling bottle of red for a Wednesday night, so I’m curious as to whether you feel those things are materially different.

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  31. Andy says:

    @Monala:

    I’m also not sure why anyone thinks that someone unhappy about no longer qualifying for stimulus checks, would be less unhappy having to pay it back at tax time.

    It depends on the circumstances.

    For example, our close friends rolled their regular IRA over to a Roth in 2019. Doing that spikes your taxable income that year since you have to pay taxes on the IRA amount during the conversion process. That made them ineligible for any of the stimuli even though their 2020 income was back to normal. Sure, they will be able to recoup that on their 2020 returns, but what if they had rolled over their IRA in 2020, before the pandemic? If their was a claw-back provision then they would have gotten the stimulus payments in 2020 and then had them clawed back when filing their 2020 returns because of the IRA conversion income spike. I think that would make anyone unhappy since their income actually didn’t change.

  32. Mister Bluster says:

    Biden, who was in the Senate for decades before becoming vice president in the Obama administration and eventually president, campaigned on bringing “consensus” back to Washington. He’s failing miserably on that front so far, as not a single Republican voted in favor of the stimulus. That said, he still got it done. And polling shows a strong majority of Americans support the rescue package.

    President FORD: When I was a member of the House for 25 and a half years, I used to look at the president and the vice president – those dictators at the other end, how can they be so arbitrary and difficult? Then when you shift from the legislating to the executive branch of the government, and you look at the Congress and say, why are all of those House and Senate members so irresponsible?
    NPR
    December 27, 2006

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  33. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner:

    The “we’re starting from scratch” business turned out to be vastly overstated.

    I’m curious what your source is for that statement. I know with certainty that the Trump administration didn’t appear to know how much vaccine they had, where it was going or when it would arrive. And they were certainly telling states they were getting quantity X on such and such a date, delivering half the amount several days late, and then calling the state officials liars and threatening to cut them off when they refuted the lies. I haven’t seen anything that indicates things were better than they appeared to be.

    Here’s just one article out of many detailing the Trumpian ineptitude that pervaded their response. In this case Trumps minions had been explaining the seeming shortfall of what Pfizer and Moderna were shipping versus what states were receiving by saying they were holding back half the doses for follow up. But when Trump flapped his gums and ordered them to start shipping the second doses right away, the minions had to admit they didn’t actually have any. OK, so that was just typical Trumpian BS. But unfortunately the article doesn’t connect the dots and point out that the 2nd dose holdbacks were used to explain a huge discrepancy. Once that turned out to be lies then the discrepancy re-emerges.

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  34. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    It depends on what you’re talking about.

    If you’re talking about accounting, then yeah, it doesn’t make much difference. If you’re talking public popularity for a particular piece of legislation then it makes a big difference.

    A tax credit that is advertised as a stimulus payment and sent directly to households is, from an accounting standpoint, no different from the same tax credit applied when filing your taxes as one of many adjustments to your final tax return.

    From a public popularity standpoint, getting advertised free money the money upfront instead of getting it backloaded as a line item on a tax return is much different.

    Plus, if this stimulus bill had all the same benefits, but the $1.9 trillion was offset by tax increases, or was available to far fewer people, or had claw-back provisions, or various strings attached, then it would be way less popular (and also wouldn’t have passed). The lack of any costs, tradeoffs, or downsides in the bill is a key reason why it’s so popular. It shouldn’t be controversial to suggest that adding in costs, downsides, or tradeoffs would make it less popular.

    Another difference from your example is that a cost-free tax credit for an oil company affects far fewer people than a cost-free tax credit that just about everyone gets. And, as long as the oil tax credit doesn’t cost anyone else anything, then chances are it’s not going to be unpopular either.

  35. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: I think “the Trumpers” made a lot of mistakes but most of the lost vaccines, etc. were just part of the chaos of an incredibly disaggregated program. I think the NYT assessment “Biden Got the Vaccine Rollout Humming, With Trump’s Help” gets it right.

    @MarkedMan: I have to join a meeting but pretty much all the fact checkers agree that this was a BS claim.

  36. Scott F. says:

    @James Joyner: @Andy: The trade-offs or costs of the COVID relief are deferred, not non-existent. This is true with all deficit spending – the bill always comes due, while we appropriate far too much each year to debt service.

    But, all US discretionary spending is fungible. So the money being spent in the COVID relief bill is drawing from the same deficient discretionary budget as the military, the Cabinet departments, federal infrastructure, etc.

    For me to accept that this funding is different than every other expenditure from the General Fund, you’ll need to show me evidence that we somehow were more honest, explicit, and detailed in the trade-offs being made when we purchased the last fighter jet or sent money to Tornado Alley.

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  37. Monala says:

    @Andy: I think we’re saying the same thing. Whether not getting it, or getting it then having to pay it back, the person in that situation probably won’t be happy about it. So the “give it then claw it back at tax time” argument makes no sense to me (and this is not even considering the fact that you’d have to make the stimulus taxable income rather than a tax credit to claw it back, which would create a host of additional problems for millions of people).

  38. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    The federal government doesn’t actually distribute the vaccine. The vaccines are shipped directly from the factories to distribution centers or the places where they’ll actually be used. The actual logistics and supply chain is handled by the pharmaceutical companies and their contract transportation carriers, not the federal government.

    The federal government’s main role is to bankroll the effort, develop distribution strategy and guidance, and coordinate between industry, state, and local entities. The limiting factor from the beginning hasn’t been distribution, it’s been production, which is still ramping up. One of the few things the Trump administration did correctly was pay a ton of money to pharma companies to get manufacturing going before there was an EUA.

    Whatever you think of Trump, that was a success in real terms. The US went from zero vaccinations to about a million a day in the one-month time-span between the vaccines receiving their EUA’s and Trump leaving office. In other posts, James has noted how the US is doing better on this front than most other countries. I have no love for Trump, but credit where it is due.

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  39. Andy says:

    @Scott F.:

    But, all US discretionary spending is fungible. So the money being spent in the COVID relief bill is drawing from the same deficient discretionary budget as the military, the Cabinet departments, federal infrastructure, etc.

    That isn’t correct, it’s not in the budget at all. It’s simply appropriated money and it doesn’t come from any budget, discretionary or otherwise. It’s only fungible in the sense that Congress could decide to appropriate money for any conceivable purpose.

    For me to accept that this funding is different than every other expenditure from the General Fund, you’ll need to show me evidence that we somehow were more honest, explicit, and detailed in the trade-offs being made when we purchased the last fighter jet or sent money to Tornado Alley.

    The defense department has long operated with two different sets of appropriations – base funding attached to the regular budget and “OCO” (aka supplemental) funding that was and remains an “off-budget” appropriation that is supposed to be temporary, but still exists 20 years after it was created.

    The covid stimulus is in the same category as OCO funding – it’s merely funding appropriated by Congress which has nothing to do with any budgetary restrictions or limits.

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  40. James Joyner says:

    @MarkedMan: @James Joyner: See, for example, “Biden’s Criticism of Trump Team’s Vaccine Contracts Is a Stretch” (Kaiser) and “FactChecking Biden’s Vaccination Goal” (FactCheck.org).

    And, again, I think Biden is doing a far, far better job than Trump in all manner of ways. I just think the short-term impact has been vastly overstated.

  41. Loviatar says:

    @Scott F.:

    But, all US discretionary spending is fungible. So the money being spent in the COVID relief bill is drawing from the same deficient discretionary budget as the military, the Cabinet departments, federal infrastructure, etc.

    I’ve been waiting for someone to make this point.

    But here is the thing, the two Republicans arguing that it is free money, strike that.

    The two independents who are using Republican arguments that it is free money, will always find an argument against giving anything to the poor, especially if as a byproduct the blacks & browns may also benefit. However these same two independents who are using Republican arguments will have no problem with those same dollars being used to purchase unneeded weaponry to kill black & browns in some exotic location.

    Unfortunately, it is a mindset that is baked into our collective psyche as a country; thou shall pull yourself up by your bootstraps.

    There is a black & brown corollary; you don’t have boots, too bad.

    2
  42. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I disagree that this was in any meaningful way a success of the Trump administration. Like dozens of other wealthy countries we agreed that if the pharmas produced a viable vaccine we would buy X doses. That didn’t require much in the way of planning or special knowledge or anything else. It was the only smart thing the Republicans did (thank heaven for small miracles) but it was the bare minimum. Had they not made the decision the vaccine would have arrived at the same moment, because other countries had also made such commitments, but the US would not have received any.

    And no matter how it is ret-conned, the Trumpers assumed responsibility for receiving the vaccines in the US allotment and distribute them. They made little effort to iron out the supply chain beforehand and then royally screwed it up when the vaccine arrived. They kept everything secret, they don’t appear to have maintained records (gee, I wonder why that is?) and they lied to the public, to the States and to the manufacturers and attempted to shift blame to everyone but their own sorry asses. And of course the Republicans as whole, including the Supreme Court, ensured that no oversight was conducted in Congress to ensure we were ready to meet this, or at least alert us to the incredible incompetence manifesting at Trump Central.

    The modern Republican is a lazy, shiftless animal, loud mouthed and incurious. They are contemptuous of government and are attracted to it because they have absorbed the Reaganite mantra that we shouldn’t expect anything of government, so they view it as the ultimate free ride. Putting people like this in charge of anything is going to be automatically disastrous.

    5
  43. Scott F. says:

    @Andy:
    What you are describing supports my argument. Thank you.

    The US doesn’t have a balanced budget and we haven’t had one in my lifetime. There are scads of “off-budget” appropriations when you are running with a massive budget deficit. Pay-Go is smoke and mirrors. The disbursements in the COVID bill are no less a “conceivable purpose” than any other Congressional appropriation, including those nominally “on-budget.”

    More importantly, we only seem to talk about the trade-offs in appropriations when the funding is going to people in need. OCO funding is “free money” “appropriated out of thin air” but if there was a public debate about cutting OCO funding off otherwise taxes would have to be raised or agriculture subsidies would have to be stopped, I must of missed it.

    3
  44. Loviatar says:

    The “we’re starting from scratch” business turned out to be vastly overstated.

    The worst time to come onto a project is after someone else f**ked it up, because then you have to reverse engineer everything to find out what’s wrong versus whats right. And its all before you can begin actually doing the work.

    The second worst time, is when they haven’t done anything other that whine and complain about how hard they are working. Because you not only have to do the work they should have done, but you also have to fight the perception that you should be further along in the project.

    I’ve found the best way to counteract both problems, is to start off by saying, “we’re starting from scratch” because this project was f**ked from the beginning, otherwise why would you bring me on to fix and complete it. The COVID response was f**ked from the beginning, otherwise why would the United States bring Biden on to fix and complete it.

    4
  45. MarkedMan says:

    @James Joyner: I’m not sure why you think any of that disproves my contention that the Trump vaccine rollout was inept. Both articles focus on how, by January 20th, we were on track to meet Biden’s Dec 8th promise. But on December 8th the vaccine rollout was a shambles, with vaccine sites set up, nurses waiting, and the promised vaccines not arriving. The Trump administration’s story was changing every day, sometimes every hour, and in typically Trumper fashion it was all about allocating blame for the failures. At the rate the vaccines were going into arms it would have taken well over a year to reach 100M doses. Was there an upward trend? Sure? Maybe? Who knew – the Trumpers were keeping it all secret.

    And when I drilled down into that first link I hit upon what I assume you actually meant to link to, and they had this say about why it was unfair for Biden to say Trump did not have a plan for vaccine distribution:

    “Many experts said that the Trump administration’s plan had some key holes, including a failure to communicate with the states and cities about the rollout and inadequate funding for vaccine distribution. But it did have a plan: rely on the states.

    “The federal plan, much like the rest of the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic, was very hands off when it comes to details of implementing public health interventions,” said Josh Michaud, associate director of global health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation. “The last mile of vaccine delivery was not a big part of the federal plan by design.”

    So their plan was to not have a plan. Their plan was to let someone else do it, without even coordinating with them. I’m not too familiar with Politifact but I’m highly suspicious of their bona fides as a fact checker when they rate something as “mostly false” when the contrawise is stated declaratively by the Trumpers themselves.

    4
  46. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    And no matter how it is ret-conned, the Trumpers assumed responsibility for receiving the vaccines in the US allotment and distribute them. They made little effort to iron out the supply chain beforehand and then royally screwed it up when the vaccine arrived.

    Again, that is not how vaccine distribution actually works. The federal government never “received” any vaccines to then distribute to the states. That was true under the Trump administration and it is true today under the Biden administration. The vaccine is shipped directly from the factories to the point of use or to pharma-owned distribution centers (and then shipped to point-of-use) using commercial carriers with very few exceptions.

  47. Andy says:

    @Scott F.:

    OCO funding is “free money” “appropriated out of thin air” but if there was a public debate about cutting OCO funding off otherwise taxes would have to be raised or agriculture subsidies would have to be stopped, I must of missed it.

    Then you missed it. It’s been hotly debated for many years. Google will give you thousands of examples going back two decades.

  48. Sleeping Dog says:

    @Scott F.:

    Actually the budget was balanced and surpluses banked during Clinton’s second term.

    …for fiscal years 1998–2001, the only such years from 1970 to 2018. Clinton’s final four budgets were balanced budgets with surpluses, beginning with the 1997 budget.

    via Wikipedia

    IIRC, the deficit would have been erased by 2008 if Bush hadn’t squandered it on 2 wars, tax cuts and Medicare expansion.

    5
  49. MarkedMan says:

    @Andy: I’m using “received” in the technical sense. They place the orders, pay the up front cost, tell the manufacturer where it is to be shipped, ensure that it is delivered, then pay the final cost. It is not up to the states to place the orders, pay for them, tell the manufacturer how much to ship to them and where, etc. Further, since they were being kept in the dark as to how much they were allocated they couldn’t even follow up with the manufacturers. How would that conversation go? “Where are our vaccines?” “What is the order number?” “I don’t know”

    Further, your statement, “that is not how vaccine distribution actually works”, while true, misses the larger issue. It is not how it worked up until this pandemic. Prior to 2021, the vaccine distribution network is set up to handle delivery of well known, easily stored and transported vaccines that have existed for years and are parsed out all year to patients who, except for the flu shot, may get them only once in their life. To assume that this system is adequate to vaccinate every person in the United States, all at once, in the shortest amount of time possible is criminally reckless. It just demonstrates the stunted, incurious and unimaginative thinking of the modern Republican politician.

    2
  50. JohnMcC says:

    @Sleeping Dog: Those of us old enough to have witnessed the GWBush administration’s early days will recall that the Clinton surpluses were a ‘problem’ that the R-party solved by giving to the rich. After all, they said, ‘it’s your money.’

    Seriously. They thought it was a problem.

    1
  51. Sleeping Dog says:

    @JohnMcC:

    And then R’s went back to b%tching about the deficit.

    1
  52. de stijl says:

    R’s when in the minority are deficit hawks. In the majority, spend like drunken sailors first night in port.

  53. Andy says:

    @MarkedMan:

    I’m using “received” in the technical sense. They place the orders, pay the up front cost, tell the manufacturer where it is to be shipped, ensure that it is delivered, then pay the final cost. It is not up to the states to place the orders, pay for them, tell the manufacturer how much to ship to them and where, etc. Further, since they were being kept in the dark as to how much they were allocated they couldn’t even follow up with the manufacturers. How would that conversation go? “Where are our vaccines?” “What is the order number?” “I don’t know”

    States actually do place orders. If you want to know how the process actually works, here’s the best explanation I’ve found.

  54. Jax says:

    @Andy: On a side note, I’m STILL curious as to where all those PPE orders that the states placed that the Feds apparently seized went.

    It went to Jared. 😉

    2
  55. Bill says:

    Inheriting a stock market at 30k is not a bad thing, just because the blue states are doing their best to kill the middle class so they can put them on the dole doesn’t mean the red states are shitting the bed.

    So any of you that have kids have basically passed this debt to their kids.

  56. Thomm says:

    @Bill: Red states already are, and have been on the dole from successful states for a long, long time. Own it welfare queen.

    5
  57. Bill says:

    @Thomm: Yeah, more urban legends for the dimwitted. Oh, Joe also inherited vaccines for the lame plague you tools believe in, not that he has a clue about anything anymore!

  58. Michael Reynolds says:

    @Bill:
    Who won the 2020 presidential election by 7 million votes?

    1
  59. Thomm says:

    @Bill: like the urban legend that getting blown by a black woman makes you not a racist? Tell me more welfare queen.

    2
  60. Thomm says:
  61. Teve says:

    Median Family Income is around $68,000 per year.

    1
  62. Jax says:

    @Bill: Bush Jr started passing that debt onto us, our children and our grandchildren in 2001, little bill.

    2
  63. de stijl says:

    @Jax:

    Little Bill was a very interesting character in Unforgiven.

    1
  64. James Joyner says:

    @Loviatar:

    The two independents who are using Republican arguments that it is free money, will always find an argument against giving anything to the poor, especially if as a byproduct the blacks & browns may also benefit.

    This is a really tired ad hominem disguised as an argument. In this thread, at least, no one has argued against giving “free money” to those hit by COVID or otherwise in economic distress. The follow-on discussion has been about whether it makes sense to simply give money to people regardless of need either 1) as pure stimulus or 2) because it’s really hard to track who lost their jobs or most/much of their income because of the pandemic.

    I introduced it to dismiss the suggestion that it’s a good idea simply because it polls well. Of course it polls well: virtually being polled is going to get $1400 with no visible strings attached.

    3
  65. Andy says:

    @Loviatar:

    But here is the thing, the two Republicans arguing that it is free money, strike that.

    The two independents who are using Republican arguments that it is free money, will always find an argument against giving anything to the poor, especially if as a byproduct the blacks & browns may also benefit. However these same two independents who are using Republican arguments will have no problem with those same dollars being used to purchase unneeded weaponry to kill black & browns in some exotic location.

    The stimulus payments are definitionally “free money” since it’s giving people cash with no strings attached and no other offsets or downsides besides another small tick on the federal deficit. It’s not a value judgment and your (completely wrong) strawman about not wanting to give to the poor and weaponry used on “black & browns” would be offensive if it weren’t so completely stupid.

    For the record, I don’t have a serious philosophical objection to the stimulus bill even though it should be obvious that a lot of it isn’t really about Covid stimulus and most Democrats intend for many of its provisions to continue once Covid is over.

    1