There may be no creature on this planet more stubborn than a Republican member of Congress. President Joe Biden’s Covid-19 stimulus package is chugging along, with Democrats in the both the House and the Senate committed to its passage. And yet as a whole, the GOP caucus is still digging in its heels. But its reluctance reflects a partisan commitment to obstruction, not what Americans want.
As it stands, time isn’t on Republicans’ side as they desperately try to derail things. Democrats hope to get the bill to Biden’s desk before March 14, when some unemployment benefits are set to expire. The House is set to vote on the $1.9 trillion package as soon as Friday after weeks of shepherding the behemoth through various committees. But the bill will face a tougher challenge in the Senate, where changes will definitely be made. (Case in point: The Senate parliamentarian ruled on Thursday that the $15-an-hour minimum wage hike can’t stay in the bill.) That leaves little time for delay, despite grumbling from some Republicans that Biden didn’t give them enough time to haggle.
But whether Republicans like it or not (and they don’t) the bill as it stands is the only game in town right now. In response, they are pretty transparent about their efforts to obstruct like the dickens in the hope that they can turn around and blame Democrats for not getting anything done for Americans in the 2022 midterm elections. In effect, they’re running the same play that they used effectively at the beginning of the Great Recession over a decade ago. But 2021 isn’t 2009, and it’s truly wild that Republicans can’t see that yet.
In early February 2009, Gallup polls showed that about 52 percent of Americans were in favor of the $800 billion proposal that would eventually become the American Recovery and Relief Act. Only 24 percent of Republicans surveyed in the poll, taken soon after the deal passed in the House, supported the measure. If anything, it seemed like President Barack Obama’s personal approval rating was buoying support for the bill overall.
And even though over two-thirds of Americans thought more money would need to be spent to stimulate the economy, the final bill was smaller than originally planned thanks to GOP criticism. This set Democrats up to fail, making the bill less effective and ultimately less popular. In other words, Republican opposition made some horrible degree of sense — a reality validated by GOP gains in the 2012 midterms.
Fast-forward to today and you’ll find a vastly different situation. Given the political division in this country, Biden’s proposal is almost absurdly popular, with sizable majorities backing it in recent polls. What’s really amazing, though, is that the bill is only growing in popularity — including among Republican voters.
A poll by Quinnipiac University taken in the last week of January found that 68 percent of respondents were on board with Biden’s plan, including about 37 percent of Republicans. A New York Times/SurveyMonkey poll taken the next week bumped that approval up to 72 percent of respondents and 43 percent of Republicans surveyed. But most eye-popping was this week’s news that a new Morning Consult/Politico survey found that 60 percent of Republicans asked were at least somewhat supportive of the $1.9 trillion package. Overall, 76 percent of the respondents in that poll wanted the bill signed into law.
What’s really amazing, though, is that the bill is only growing in popularity — including among Republican voters.
If that wasn’t enough, you know who else loves this bill? Businesses. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce came out in favor of Biden’s proposal early. Then, on Wednesday, more than 150 top business leaders signed a letter encouraging Congress to pass the bill posthaste. That included executives from “AT&T, Blackstone, Comcast (the parent company of NBCUniversal), Corcoran, Goldman Sachs, Google, Saks Fifth Avenue, Siemens, T-Mobile and United Airlines,” so, uh, not exactly a small segment of the economy.
Even elected Republicans back this bill, as long as they aren’t coastal elites who spend their days in Washington, D.C. Out in the real heartland — places like Arizona, Texas and Oklahoma — mayors of cities in need of help are throwing their support behind Biden’s stimulus efforts. As Mayor Bryan Barnett of Rochester Hills, Michigan, told USA Today, his constituents aren’t interested in “the games being played in Washington.” (And I’ve been to Rochester Hills, Michigan; it’s not exactly a bastion of liberalism.)
Biden, to his credit, has done his best to get Republicans to see the writing on the wall. “My hope is that the Republicans in Congress listen to their constituents,” he said during a Pfizer vaccine facility tour on Feb. 19. White House press secretary Jen Psaki wasn’t joking when she told reporters Jan. 29 that despite the bill’s moving forward in a way that won’t require GOP defectors to pass in the Senate, “Republicans can still vote for a package even if it goes through reconciliation.”
And yet, when the package passed out of the House Budget committee on Monday, it was on a party-line vote, with all 16 Republican members voting nay. The same day that Biden was asking Republicans to listen to their voters, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., sent out a message to his caucus urging a no vote.
Scalise’s “whip notice” referred to the bill as the “Pelosi’s Payoff to Progressives Act,” the latest in what has become an increasingly desperate messaging campaign. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., tried a similar tactic on Twitter on Wednesday, attempting to point out wasteful items hidden in the bill. But as far as dunks go, this was less a backboard breaker and more of a “get the ball stuck behind the rim” situation.
Now, there’s still a chance that Republicans’ cynical gamble will pay off for them politically. By fall 2010, just ahead of the midterms, the GOP’s anti-Obama mantra had sunk in with voters — more than two-thirds of Americans thought the 2009 stimulus bill was “a waste” by then. But Democrats may have learned their lesson: Go big or go home. They aren’t budging on the size and scope of the bill, making it less likely that its effects are forgotten quickly.
All this means that I, for one, am looking forward to the midterm commercials in 2022, when Republican members of the House are touting the benefits of the package while bending over backward to avoid citing where the funding came from. But we’ll know. And we’ll remember how hard they worked to block it.