Monday, April 05, 2021


Earlier this year, commentators were surprised at the relative lack of Republican resistance to the Democrats' COVID relief bill. Jonathan Chait wrote:
The Democratic Party is on the verge of passing an economic-rescue bill twice the size of the one they enacted under Barack Obama. And yet the Republican opposition, which could block any bill by turning just one senator, has invested shockingly little energy in its opposition. While no Republicans seem likely to vote in favor, they have responded with resignation, rather than the paroxysms of outrage they mustered against previous Democratic administrations (and over far more limited measures).
After the bill passed, some Republicans in Congress even boasted about aid coming to their constituents from this bill they'd voted against.

But I never believed that this was a politcal failure on the Republicans' part. They seem to have decided that fighting hard to defeat the bill would have been an exercise in futility and a waste of political capital. So they settled on an alternate plan: Let it pass, but lay the groundwork for a campaign to discredit it afterward. They seemed to believe that they'd get more political benefit out of allowing it to become law and then demonizing it than they would from fighting it.

The plan seems to be working, at least with the Republican base. A story in The Washington Post tells us that Republican voters are parroting the party's messaging on the COVID bill.
A lifelong railroad aficionado, 74-year-old retiree Tony Benz has volunteered for nearly two decades helping passengers at the Amtrak station in the St. Louis suburb of Kirkwood, Mo.

He believes the federal government has a role in funding infrastructure, and outside the station last week, Benz listed reasons the government should subsidize train travel....

[But] to Benz — a self-identified Republican-leaning independent who voted for President Donald Trump — the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Biden signed into law last month, delivering $1,400 stimulus checks to Benz and tens of millions of other Americans, was simply “overexorbitant.”

“They need to look at who these people are, who gets it and who shouldn’t get it, and refine it,” he said....

The owner of a Mexican restaurant in Chesterfield, a St. Louis suburb of more than 45,000, Roseann Espino, 57, benefited from a Paycheck Protection Program loan earlier this year — a program created under the bipartisan Cares Act and renewed multiple times since. But she said she received no other government assistance and viewed the Democratic follow-up to Cares, the American Rescue Plan, as a waste.

“What do we need $1.9 trillion for? To buy more masks for people? I mean what are we doing?” she said, backing local GOP Rep. Ann Wagner’s decision to oppose the bill.
They firmly believe that unemployment benefits make people less inclined to work.
Like other conservative business owners interviewed last week, [Espino] believed the generous unemployment benefits had hurt the recovery by making labor scarce — workers were better off cashing more-generous unemployment checks than taking paying jobs. She said one of her suppliers delivered food recently because so many of its drivers had called out after receiving stimulus checks....

“There is no hotel or restaurant in Charleston County not looking for people,” said Hank Holliday, who presided over a hospitality empire until selling most of his Charleston holdings in December. “Chefs, owners and managers can’t even get people to show up for interviews. They’ll respond to a want ad, but then don’t even show up. Why? They want to put on their unemployment application that they tried to get a job at Peninsula Grill. I’ve seen signs in windows downtown: ‘Due to stimulus checks and bonus unemployment, we are understaffed. Please bear with us if service is slow.’”
The COVID bill didn't raise taxes on the rich, so Republican officeholders didn't have a principled objection to it. (The infrastructure bill does raise taxes on the wealthy, so Republicans seem to be fighting it much harder.) But Republicans worked their talking points on the stimulus bill into the debate, knowing that once the bill passed they'd simply continue to make those arguments. They didn't care whether they changed the bill. All they cared about was influencing the narrative. They think they have the narrative where they want it.

Sure, the polls show that the COVID bill was popular -- but it's less popular among Republicans, and the campaign to discredit it is ongoing. Most House Republicans don't need to worry about winning non-Republican votes, and most Senate Republicans are in red states, or in states where they can use sky-is-falling rhetoric and a bit of Democratic vote suppression to eke out a win. So the GOP just needs to turn its base against the stimulus, and against future Biden bills, and then it doesn't matter what the rest of us think.

With regard to these Democratic bills, Republicans don't care if the outcome is good, as long as the narrative, at least in their bubble, seems bad.

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