Democrats Hold The Winning Hand On COVID Relief Bill

[ Posted Tuesday, February 23rd, 2021 – 17:31 UTC ]

Joe Biden's first major legislative initiative is going to be a winning one for Democrats, and (hopefully) a big anchor around the neck of all the Republicans in Congress who vote against it (which, as of this writing, looks like it's going to be "all of them"). It's rare that a bill this popular doesn't have bipartisan support, because most politicians on either side of the aisle know full well that voting for something wildly popular -- even if your party didn't propose it -- is usually good politics. It's something to brag about in the next election campaign, in normal times.

But even with Donald Trump finally relegated to the sidelines, the times are anything but normal in today's Republican Party. They've backed themselves into the corner of "no compromise, no surrender" when it comes to dealing with Democrats, and this could be a serious liability for them -- especially with moderate or independent voters (who generally hate partisan extremism and instead just want to see things get done in Washington).

Biden's $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill is already supported by an overwhelming majority of the public -- it polls as high as eighty percent approval, in some polls (data taken from an article that includes the statement: "this bill so far looks to be one of the most popular pieces of major legislation in U.S. history"). That means a whole lot of Republican voters are already for it. It is popular because it contains many very popular ideas, such as spending money to speed up vaccination distribution, direct $1,400 checks to most Americans, aid for local and state governments who have been hit hard by the economic fallout from the pandemic, and a long-overdue raise in the minimum wage to $15 an hour. All of these items are wildly popular with the public, so it's no surprise that bundling them all together has produced a bill that is also wildly popular. This ain't rocket science, in other words.

Republicans, on the other hand, are against it. But they really don't have any convincing idea as to why they're against it, they just are. It's a Democratic idea, it will help a Democratic president, and therefore it is to be fought against. You'll note that nowhere in this political equation is a measurement of "whether it would be good for the country or not," because that simply is not a consideration for today's Republicans.

Democrats need to point this out, in the strongest terms possible -- right now, later on when everyone's vaccinated and the economy has recovered, and definitely during the 2022 and 2024 election cycles. "We saved America, and the Republicans fought against us" should be the rallying cry, really. This is going to be an easy sell, because the Republican position is so incredibly weak on the issue.

Here's an imagined conversation between a Republican in Congress and some of his or her constituents, over voting against the relief bill:

"It just costs too much."

"We don't care. Spend what it takes, this is a huge emergency."

"We'll have to borrow and spend money your children will have to repay!"

"We don't care. It's worth it to save lives and jobs now."

"It's a bailout for blue states."

"No it isn't, it helps red states too, and my aunt's a firefighter who was on the brink of being fired -- but this bill will save her job.

"It's fiscally irresponsible."

"You didn't give a damn about fiscal responsibility when you passed a two-trillion-dollar tax cut for Wall Street and billionaires, but now you suddenly care about it? Puh-leeeze."

"We don't think people really need another $1,400 right now."

"You may not, but we do. That's precisely why we elected two Democrats to the Senate from Georgia, in fact. Even Donald Trump was pushing for that exact same amount, so how can you be so against something Trump was for?"

Obviously, all the standard conservative nostrums are pretty ineffective right now. They used to work, but in the midst of a once-in-a-century medical and economic emergency, they just don't anymore. Once again, before the battle is truly even joined in Congress, the public is already solidly behind the idea. This was not a result of any sort of massive advertising or other P.R. effort on the part of Biden or the Democrats, mind you, the bill is just authentically popular because of what it contains.

Something that very few people within the swamp of Washington just do not understand (or have completely forgotten, take your pick) is that real people out in the country simply do not care if a bill is sufficiently bipartisan to satisfy the mavens in the punditocracy who do care about such minutiae. People care whether it works or not. People care whether it improves their lives or not. People care that the government tries to solve problems instead of endlessly bickering over what the proper solution should be. Anyone who really thinks voters care about whether a bill follows regular Senate procedures or is passed using budget reconciliation probably has a phone number beginning with (202), in other words. And that is all to the benefit of the Democrats, this time around.

CNN's John Harwood tweeted out a rather amazing admission of how Republicans are about to shoot themselves in the foot on the issue. He quotes a "senior House Republican" responding, after being asked how many Republicans will vote for the bill: "Personally I expect zero. no effort to reach out to House Rs by majority or WH. why would any R vote for this?" Oh, I don't know, maybe because it is the right thing to do for the country, perhaps? Or even "the right thing to do politically," since so many Republican voters support it?

Democrats would do well to remind voters -- as many times as possible -- of such Republican indifference. The conventional wisdom in Washington is that bills passed by party-line votes tend to be unpopular. This may usually be right (it's debatable), but it is not going to be in this case. This bill is already popular with the public, and seeing those checks in the mail isn't going to somehow convince them that they're wrong. Democrats need to claim all the credit for all of it, which the Republican Party is going to allow due to their lockstep insistence on voting against such a popular bill.

When everyone who wants to get vaccinated can, Democrats should say: "We got the country vaccinated in record time, and Republicans voted against it." When the economy recovers once everyone is vaccinated and all the jobs come back, Democrats need to say: "We rescued the economy, and Republicans fought against us." Also point out: "Every working American now makes enough of a wage that they don't also have to get welfare from the government just to survive -- but Republicans fought hard against millions of workers getting this raise." Democrats should also say things like: "We saved [insert correct number] million jobs for firefighters, first responders, nurses, teachers, and cops. If Republicans had had their way, all these people would have been laid off."

There will be no need to be subtle about it. With "zero" Republican support, it makes it pathetically easy for Democrats to claim credit for pretty much everything good that happens in the next two years. Always with that refrain: "with no help from a single Republican in Congress!" The midterm campaign could even be largely based on this comparison. "Want more good things done in Washington? Elect more Democrats and they will. Want nothing but bickering and excuses and failure? Then go right ahead and vote for Republicans, because that is exactly what they fight for in Washington."

There is a reason why bills that universally help the entire country (all districts, all states) are usually passed with huge bipartisan majorities. Infrastructure bills that contain spending for everyone's home district are the classic example of this, because then everyone in Congress can point to something tangible and claim: "I made that happen" during election season. This is one of those bills, but rather astoundingly Republicans have decided to oppose it en masse. They need to pay a political price for doing so, and if Democrats can launch a sustained effort to remind the public what an extreme and counterproductive position the GOP's opposition truly is, then Republicans will pay this political price.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


5 Comments on “Democrats Hold The Winning Hand On COVID Relief Bill”

  1. [1] 
    John M from Ct. wrote:

    Since your case is seemingly so obvious, I would like to have heard more than one unnamed Republican and one strawman campaigner explain the party's 100% opposition to such a popular and necessary bill.

    Despite your explanation of a mass suicide impulse in an entire Congressional delegation, it still doesn't make sense. They have strategists, they have pundits, they have poll-watchers. By your account, this will utterly doom them in 2022, assuming the Democrats do their damn job as politicians (I know, I know...). It doesn't seem enough to just say "Trump" and invite liberals to sit back and watch the resulting mass political death.

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Republicans may be counting on this relief bill not working because they have a failing record themselves on the economy and then using that to win in 2022. That would make sense. Ahem.

  3. [3] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    get something useful done first, worry about the political impact later.

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    it was mcconnell's senate that killed the stimulus last summer, not pelosi and not even trump.

    and take your own advice - what you're doing here isn't useful to anyone, least of all yourself.

    get edible.


  5. [5] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Democrats need to point this out, in the strongest terms possible -- right now, later on when everyone's vaccinated and the economy has recovered, and definitely during the 2022 and 2024 election cycles.

    I agree that failure to do so would be political malpractice.

    But there's still the problem of separate information ecosystems.

    Millions think Trump was a great Prez, the election was stolen, Covid is fake, wearing a mask is oppression, that Black Lives Matter is a Marxist organization bent on destroying the American family and way of life, etc.

    Say, didn't Bernie (and Pete?) go on Fox News, to good effect?

    If the bleeping Dems pass Democratic legislation rather than GOP-lite legislation then I hope they'd relish going on Fox to meet the other half where they're at, not where we'd prefer them to be.

    You know...out of the rabbit in Reality.*sigh*

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