When a bill receives zero bipartisan support, it’s not surprising that one side would claim it to be the seed of the Republic’s downfall. Such hyperbole is commonplace on both sides of the aisle and has become par for the course in terms of post-vote messaging. However, now that the House has voted to send the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package to President Joe Biden’s desk, one thing has changed: The winning side is admitting that the dollar spending is all about ideology.
In a vote of 220 to 211, with all Republicans and one lone Democrat voting against, the legislation will now become law. House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth (D-KY) said that, “We’re about to pass one of the most consequential pieces of legislation in modern history. It’s nothing short of a miracle that we have gotten to this point.” He continued:
“We have come together as a party in the Congress to do something monumental but something that also clearly reflects our values as a party: a commitment to using government to improve the lives of as many people as possible … I think probably all of us who have been around for the last ten years or so have maybe given up hope we could do anything consequential again in Congress, but we’ve proved we can.”
Consequential? The $1,400 stimulus checks included in the bill may prove useful to many Americans struggling in the wake of COVID lockdowns, and federal employees will certainly be smiling at the added job protections. But the selling point for the Democrats and the Biden-friendly Fourth Estate has been that the law apparently tackles poverty.
Vice President Kamala Harris lauded the provisions, highlighting that the $3,000 tax credit per child would lift half of American children living in poverty out of their challenging predicament. The ignored paradox here is that if a tax credit can stop poverty on such a grand scale, then perhaps it is the taxation that is causing the dire circumstances in the first place.
The Urban Institute, a political think tank, suggests that the $1,400 stimulus payments will have a major impact on reducing poverty, without once stating that a well-paid, stable job – perhaps in the fuel industries taking such a presidential battering, right now – would provide far more long-term benefit than a one-off handout.
But of course, the $1.9 trillion is not coming directly from the government coffers; this all has to be paid for down the line. South Carolina GOP Rep. Tom Rice pointed out that the massive spending was a “selfish attempt to saddle our next generation with debt.”
An Ideological Push
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) called the American Rescue Plan Act “one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have an opportunity to support.” How so?
Pelosi’s exuberance may well rest on the idea that once the public has accepted that big spending packages give them a tax credit or a payout, they will be more open to the notion of government debt increases.
Presenting an alternative vision, House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA) warned that “When you look at the priorities of Speaker Pelosi, it’s to spend as much money as quickly as possible on her socialist agenda, and to turn her backs on those of us who want to work together to confront this virus and to safely reopen our economy and our schools.”
Whichever camp is ultimately proved right remains to be seen.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) believes that the voting public will embrace the spending and compares it to the highly controversial Obamacare. He said, “The Affordable Care Act was an extraordinary piece of legislation. [It] took a long time for the American people to understand how much value it was to them and their families, but they’ve done that now … They certainly didn’t take the time on this bill, however, where we have over 70% of the American people think this bill ought to be passed.”
President Biden and senior White House figures are about to embark on a Magical Mystery Tour – both physical and digital – to sell the spending package to America. Why try to continue to convince someone to buy a product when you already have their signature on the dotted line? That the whole thing is already a done deal perhaps provides insight into what is really behind this enormous increase in the national debt.
This idea that the spending is, and will be, widely praised by future generations may be the whole point. The Democrats hope that history will smile on them for passing the bill, graciously doling out $1,400 checks. It is a legacy-builder for President Biden that carries favorable optics. Just the ticket for a party with a razor-thin majority and an unknown and unknowable midterm pivot point on the horizon.
Read more from Mark Angelides.