A trio of Democratic lawmakers this week proposed a bill that would allow the federal government to send Americans monthly payments of $100 to help them deal with record-high gas prices.
Introduced by Rep. Mike Thompson of California, the proposal would work in a similar way to how recent stimulus checks have worked, phasing out for individuals making over $80,000 a year or couples making over $160,000 a year, while households with children could claim an additional $100 per child. All of this would remain in effect throughout 2022 for as long as national average gas prices are above $4 a gallon. The House bill has been referred to the Ways & Means Committee.
Some Republicans, not surprisingly, are flatly opposed to this idea, with Senator John Thune of South Dakota tweeting, “Dumping money into the economy like that is exactly what got us into this inflation crisis in the first place,” and he’s not entirely wrong. Research released by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco last year indicated that the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan did at least contribute to rising prices. Robert Triest, chair and professor of economics at Northeastern, said in an interview in January that stimulus checks along with supply-chain issues were contributing factors to inflation, although he did add that the economy has remained stable, which suggests the stimulus checks did their job.
Still, the appetite for more giant stimulus packages among congressional lawmakers is likely lower than it was a year ago, even when you consider that stimulus payments in general have been broadly popular with Americans. And it’s not just Republicans who are wary of the idea. Last week, Axios reported that the White House considered—past tense—sending debit cards to Americans to help with high gas prices, but a Democratic House counsel shot it down, in part because it would not be highly effective and could make inflation worse.
Meanwhile, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which would likely have to shoulder the burden of administering the payments, is barely equipped to handle the current tax season as it already is. Conventional wisdom might suggest that monthly payments would make for good talking points for poll-challenged Democrats in November’s midterm election, but a poorly executed plan, rife with IRS-style administrative and technical glitches, could backfire.
Thompson’s bill isn’t the only plan out there aimed at helping Americans pay for gas. Democratic lawmakers in the House and Senate introduced companion bills in February that would temporarily suspend the federal gas tax, and a number of states are making similar moves at the state level.