What Republicans don’t get: Biden’s oversized COVID relief package is a new start for America
Finally, in Joe Biden, we have a president who cares.
“I know it’s been hard. I truly know,” he said, reflecting on a year of loss of both life and living. “I will not relent until we beat this virus, but I need you, the American people. I need you. I need every American to do their part, and that’s not hyperbole.”
Biden’s primetime address, his first, came hours after he signed a $1.9 trillion COVID relief law, historic in its breadth and cost, that represents the largest anti-poverty package in generations. It includes direct assistance to most Americans and an expanded Child Tax Credit that could cut child poverty in half, as well as billions for towns, schools and small businesses. And most importantly, it will expedite access to the COVID-19 vaccines that are so desperately needed to save lives and bring this pandemic, finally, to its knees.
Yet Republicans stood united in their opposition to the relief package. Not a single Republican voted for it, giving the Democrats a powerful tool to use against them and revealing once again their extraordinary hypocrisy. They are convinced that the stimulus package will backfire on Democrats in the midterm elections, as former President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus package did during the 2010 midterms.
No GOP credibility as fiscal stewards
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell made it clear early on that GOP senators would use this bill to suggest that Biden had abandoned his campaign promise to work in a bipartisan fashion. Sen. Ron Johnson forced the reading of the entire 628-page legislation into the record., a stupid stunt that took nearly 11 hours. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Marco Rubio joined the “no” votes even though amendments to the bill that they had sponsored were adopted.
According to Forbes and its auditors, the bill is littered with earmarks and pork, with hundreds of billions going to non-COVID related spending. Such non-COVID projects include millions of dollars for family planning programs, the National Endowment for the Arts and more.
It shouldn’t be difficult to make the argument that these programs don’t belong in a COVID relief bill. Conservatives have fought against such wasteful spending for decades. But that is exactly the problem: For the past four years, Republicans have completely abandoned the conservative cause and allowed a Republican president to spend, as Sen. John McCain often said, like a drunken sailor.
Under former President Donald Trump, with the full support of Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, the nation’s debt surged by $7.8 trillion, a nearly 40% escalation from when President Obama left office.
Republicans no longer have any credibility as conservative fiscal stewards. In fact, the principles of conservatism were abandoned in their entirety by the GOP in deference to their narcissistic, destructive leader. Their empty, politically-driven complaints about this law now fall on deaf ears.
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As we all know, elections have consequences. When over 81 million Americans — including 8% of Republicans — voted for Joe Biden, they were sending a clear message that they were done with the GOP reverence for Trump. Losing the right and credibility to call for fiscal restraint is the cost Republicans now pay for their irresponsible behavior over the past four years.
While Republican senators hope that by opposing this massive spending bill they will gain support in the 2022 mid-term elections, they are ignoring a key difference. Under Obama’s leadership, we did not lose 530,000 American lives to a grossly mismanaged pandemic.
COVID relief signals new dawn
Republicans are callously assuming that America will forget the pain and grief of this past year. They are evaluating this relief package through the same cynical, partisan filter of the past. They believe they will be able to use a spending bill to further divide the nation, fan the flames of dissent and tribalism, and use dollars to move the vote in 2022.
In doing so, they are ignoring the reality of the past 12 months. Regardless of whether or not they support all the programs and projects that will benefit from this bill, the COVID relief package represents much more than dollars in their pockets for most Americans.
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It is a sign that a new day is finally dawning in America. President Biden is following through on his promise to bring relief to struggling families and small businesses. He is implementing an organized, expedited vaccine distribution plan. He is building an experienced, diverse leadership team for our country. He is moving us toward a future we can all believe in.
And he gives every indication of understanding what our country is going through, ticking off a litany of losses ranging from the anguish of loved ones dying alone, to children losing up to a year of learning, to simple pleasures like spending time with friends.
“We are fundamentally a people who want to be with others, to talk, to laugh, to hug, to hold one another, but this virus has kept us apart,” Biden said Thursday night. “The things we used to do that always filled us with joy have become things we couldn’t do and broke our hearts.”
Republicans have lost the authority and credibility to criticize. They should have voted for the relief bill out of respect and empathy for the American people. Instead, they made it clear that when it comes to the people, they have neither.
Former Republican Jennifer Horn, a communications strategist and a senior practitioner fellow at the University of Chicago Center for Effective Government, chaired the New Hampshire Republican Party from 2013-17 and was a co-founder of the Lincoln Project.Follow her on Twitter: @NHJennifer