We should have seen it coming.
Washington Post reports that after two days of the Biden administration, with Day One largely devoted to the inauguration, Republicans are already whining about what they now claim is profligate Biden spending proposals in his initial stimulus package to help struggling families as well as states/localities trying to get schools started again, and more. https://wapo.st/39f295C The WAPO title, Turned off by Biden’s approach, GOP opposition to stimulus relief intensifies, tells the story even without reading the article. But I read it anyway.
President Biden’s pitch for bipartisan unity to defeat the coronavirus and resurrect the economy is crashing into a partisan buzz saw on Capitol Hill, where Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on ground rules for running the Senate — let alone pass a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill.
Biden’s relief package is being declared dead on arrival by senior Senate Republicans, some of whom say there has been little, if any, outreach from the Biden team to get their support. Liberals are demanding the president abandon attempts to make a bipartisan deal altogether and instead ram the massive legislation through without GOP votes. And outside groups are turning up the pressure for Biden and the Democrats who control Congress to enact economic relief quickly, even if it means cutting Republicans out of the deal
Some Republicans, WAPO cites Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), are saying that some elements of Biden’s pandemic stimulus package were really their idea and, naturalment, they’re on board with those. But some were apparently insulted that President Biden had not personally reached out to them to beg for support “even though Biden pitched himself on the campaign trail as a bipartisan dealmaker.”
According to the WAPO story, it’s not just the bruised egos of Republicans who think the President, before having breakfast, owes each of them a personal call. What it actually is remains unclear, however, as, for example, Sen. Portman (R-Ohio) is quoted, doing the classic Republican two-step, to the effect that “it’s not about me but it’s all about me – I didn’t get a call.”
The English translation of all this Republican hand-wringing and hair-pulling is that the new president had the nerve to announce his $1.9 trillion plan without first asking the Republicans to approve it. And, presumably, if the Republicans disapproved, the President, being a champion of bipartisanship, should simply have yielded to the partisanship of the Republicans. How nice for the Republicans who, having lost the election, would still get final say on the Democratic agenda.
The issue as portrayed is not whether in substance the Biden proposal is the correct approach in its details to the massive mess that the Trump administration, with full Republican congressional support, created for the country. It’s whether Biden is acting in a genuinely bipartisan manner, which to Republicans means they get to define the plan.
Having forgotten their affection for Trump’s deficit-exploding tax cuts for the wealthy, the always oh-so-conservative anti-spending Republicans are bent out of shape over the dastardly possibility of increasing the national minimum wage to $15. In case you’re wondering, as I was, about the history of the minimum wage, it was raised a whopping 70 cents in July 2009 to the current $7.25 per hour. https://bit.ly/3sPSIl3 At that rate, a person working 40 hours of paid time per week makes $290 gross per week and $15,080 a year if no unpaid leave is taken. The 2020 “poverty guidelines” for the 48 contiguous states plus DC were:
Persons in Family/Household Poverty Guideline
1 $12, 760
2 $17, 240
Biden’s proposal would yield annual gross income of $31,200 and, technically, move most minimum wage workers out of “poverty.” It would also, obviously, help many of people most seriously affected by the unemployment driven by the pandemic.
But – the Republicans say this is a “non-starter.” Why, after all, would Republicans want to help people most in need of help when they can help themselves instead?
The Democratic strategy, according to Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, is to put Republicans in the position of identifying what they don’t want to pay for. That’s a good strategy, but the Republicans will be remorseless in saying “no” to provisions like an increase in the minimum wage, the first in more than 11 years. Republican logic, says that the minimum wage is not related to the pandemic. Kind of like saying the vaccine is not related to the pandemic either – you can take it, but you can also not take it. And if it’s not related, then under the reasoning of occasional Republican dissenter, Mitt Romney, the spending is not “absolutely necessary.”
Having witnessed Republican indifference to the suffering of caged children at the southern border and other crimes against humanity and multiple overt acts of criminality, including obstruction of justice and voter suppression, it was a bit disconcerting to see how sensitive Republicans have become. They are a virtual chorus of “Biden poisoned the well with an extreme proposal and our feelings are so hurt, we simply can’t cope with negotiating in good faith.” The horror, the horror.
The article notes that the legislation could be passed with just Democratic votes, but that individual senators could then try to force acceptance of their individual agendas. That would, of course, be classic Democratic politics – get control and then shoot yourselves in the foot/head. Hopefully, that won’t happen this time. Opportunities like this only come along occasionally and the need is critical.
Everything is complicated by disagreements over how to manage the Senate’s business with a 50-50 split in party membership (the Republicans claiming their 50 percent is worth more than the Democrats’ 50 percent) and the handling of Trump’s second impeachment trial (Republicans claim that holding Trump accountable for his crimes will be “divisive.”) Everything depends on everything, and meanwhile the American people continue to suffer – COVID deaths continue to mount, lunatic right-wing white supremacists continue to claim that the election was stolen from Trump and threaten to resume attacks and unemployment claims continue at economy- and company/family-destroying rates.
Republicans don’t seem to care because, well, they’re Republicans and the economic suffering of Americans is simply not something of major importance to them. They had no hesitancy last year in dawdling for months over the last stimulus legislation, only finally agreeing at the very end of the year. We should have seen this coming.
My view, then, is that Biden tells the Republicans to put up or shut up – and do it now. No prolonged negotiations. It’s time to act. If Republicans can’t see the problem, proceed without them. Democrats who try to leverage the situation should be taken out to the woodshed and, well, you know. It’s time to end politics as usual. We didn’t run Trump out of town just to have all the good ideas pulled into Republican quicksand.