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Will There Be A Price To Pay For Concerted GOP Opposition?

On NPR's Weekend Edition this morning, Bernie explained that the COVID-Rescue package will do a lot more than distribute $1,400 checks. He sees it rebuilding the economy, safely filling classrooms and reopening businesses again and helping to restore faith in the government. He dubbed it "the most consequential piece of legislation for working families passed in many, many decades." Republicans were in complete lockstep in the obstruction of the bill and their opposition to it. In the interview, Scott Simon noted that "The American Rescue Plan didn't get any Republican votes. Does that portend anything for you with so many issues coming up in the Congress where some bipartisan amity might be a good idea on looming issues like immigration as we see another spike in the number of children congregating at the southern border." Kind of a lame, ass-backward question, but Bernie's response is worth thinking about: "[E]verybody wants bipartisanship. But what is most important is that at a time when this country is facing unprecedented health crises, economic crises, educational crises, mental health crises, we've got to move and if the choice is doing it without Republican support and moving aggressively or spending, you know, month after month after month debating and discussing and not doing anything, to me the choice is pretty clear: We do it. And when the American people get those $1,400 checks, they're not going to be sitting around saying, 'Oh, my goodness, this is not good, we didn't have any Republican support.' I think they're going to be understanding that finally, that the United States Congress, the president, are beginning to respond to their needs."

Will the Republican obstructionists be made to pay a political price for their lockstep opposition to the bill, chasing instead too rail about Mr. Potato Head and whichever manufactured nonsense they came up with to distract attention from solving the worst problems plaguing the country? Possible Rubio 2022 opponent, former Orlando congressman Alan Grayson told us today that "The sustained effort of the Democrats and the Biden Administration to improve the lives of the 99% already marks a vivid contrast to the demented, malevolent incompetence of the last four years that a limited number of us managed to survive. The COVID rescue legislation is just one example of that improvement. If the Democrats stick together and continue this progress, then the only people who will want to vote for Rubio, DeSantis or any other GOP candidate will be the narrow slice of the electorate that enjoys hitting their heads against a wall, over and over again, plus a few others who howl at the moon each night."

Writing for the NY Times before dawn this morning, Lisa Lerer asked if the Republicans will be made to pay a price-- and she's unsure. "During the weeks of negotiations over the legislation," she wrote, "Republicans were unable to coalesce around a comprehensive argument against the bill. Instead, they offered a scattershot list of complaints. After the legislation passed, Senator Mitch McConnell’s main argument seemed to be that the economic recovery would have happened anyhow. 'We’re about to have a boom,' said McConnell, the minority leader. 'And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.' Others seemed far more focused on Dr. Seuss and Mr. Potato Head, culture war bait that fires up their conservative base. Representative Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader, even took the issue to the House floor. 'First they outlaw Dr. Seuss, and now they want to tell us what to say,' he said during a debate over a Democratic voting rights bill. (It was the company overseeing the author’s estate, not any Democrats, that recently chose to stop publishing several of his works. And Republicans’ focus on Dr. Seuss did deliver some economic benefit: More than 1.2 million copies of stories by the children’s book author sold in the first week of March-- more than quadruple from the week before.)

The Republican predicament is simple: People like getting money, especially when they are struggling, and this bill will deliver. Roughly 90 percent of American households will be eligible for stimulus checks. More than 93 percent of children-- 69 million-- will receive what is essentially a guaranteed income for families. Even those who don’t receive a payment will benefit from new funding for reopening schools and vaccine distribution.
Trump taught Republican voters to love that kind of government spending by championing stimulus measures that were even larger than this bill. That makes it difficult for G.O.P. lawmakers who backed those measures to argue against the cost of this legislation, without facing charges of hypocrisy or possible pushback from portions of their base.
To shift public opinion, Republicans will have to settle on a clear argument against the legislation and find the party discipline to drive it. To that end, they’ll be keeping a close eye on how the money is distributed, hoping to find examples of waste or fraud that they can highlight to undercut Mr. Biden’s policy agenda. One area ripe for discontent is the aid to state and local governments, which polls significantly lower among Republicans than Democrats. But it won’t be easy: Republicans are already struggling to overcome deep divides in their ranks.

Progressive Democrat Mary Jo Kilroy was a member of Congress representing central Ohio until the Republican state legislature gerrymandered her out of a seat. This morning she reminded me that "Millions of Americans are out of work, or behind in their rent or on their mortgage, yet not a single Republican voted for the Covid-rescue package. Instead of providing much needed assistance to their beleaguered constituents, they decided being the 'party of no,' and of chronic obstructionism, suits their political purposes and chose that path. They may think that their 'no' votes will hurt Joe Biden's standing with voters, but I think they will soon learn in the midterms that the old 2010 playbook won't work in 2022. Health care was complicated and didn't come into effect for 4 years after the vote. Republicans preyed on people's fears that they would somehow lose out. Covid relief is immediate, and receiving a check in the mail, or rental assistance, doesn't need a lot of explaining. It's quite clear which party is on their side. Democrats should keep reminding the voters of Republicans' mean-spirited disdain shown for them and their struggles, reminding them of Republican votes against help for working class, middle class and poor voters while gladly voting in favor of costly tax cuts for the rich. Who knows? Perhaps Ohio voters who mistakenly believed that Trump was a populist who would stand up against Washington insiders on their behalf, will turn to a Democratic champion such as Tim Ryan in the 2022 election to replace retiring Rob Portman."

Ken Calvert, the Riverside County Trumpist who voted against the bill, is being opposed for reelection by Liam O'Mara, who told CA-42 voters this morning that "This bill is a major victory for so, so many Americans of all political stripes. And with 75% support from the people of this country, it’s the most bipartisan piece of major legislation in decades. So why did Ken Calvert vote against it? This bill helps people like us instead of the CEO of Raytheon. It helps small businesses like restaurants, bars and breweries instead of megacorporations like Wal-Mart or Amazon. It gives child tax credits for working families instead of top margin income tax cuts for billionaires. But... Ken is a partisan rubber stamp who believes in the debunked myth of trickle-down economics. Ken Calvert is always going to vote against bills like this.

That's an example of how smart Democratic candidates are framing unhinged GOP opposition. I asked former Arizona and Texas congressional candidates Eva Putzova and Julie Oliver if Republicans will pay a price in their states during the midterms. Eva thinks maybe. "The Arizona Republican Party's opposition to the Covid-Rescue package may hurt them in 2022 unless they are able to pass state restrictions on mail ballot voting that they introduced in the legislature recently. In that case, their growing extremism can very well lead to success at the polls in 2022, especially if Democrats don’t continue delivering for the people, which requires ending the filibuster in the Senate." Julie didn't sound very sanguine either. She told me that she doubts Republicans will pay a political price for their opposition. "We are living in an age of extreme partisanship. Even though Democrats are the party that wants to lift the minimum wage, expand Medicaid, and decriminalize marijuana, wherever these issues showed up on ballots last November, they outperformed Democrats broadly. Even though voters approved minimum wage increases, Medicaid expansion, and the legalization of weed, they still voted overwhelmingly for Republicans. So unless the Democratic Party provides a cohesive economic message and plan for voters, those voters will continue to vote for populist ballot initiatives and Republicans (who will fight the initiatives once elected) at the same time."

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