Dead set against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 spending plan, congressional Republicans are laboring to convince a largely supportive public that the package is less coronavirus relief than liberal boondoggle.
Reviving the struggling economy and mitigating the deadly pandemic are voters’ top priorities, and upward of 70% of them, including a healthy percentage of Republicans, approve of Biden’s blueprint for addressing both: the American Recovery Plan. The bill would, among other items, send $1,400 checks to most people; invest $50 billion in coronavirus testing while creating a national vaccination program; and allocate $130 billion to public schools to facilitate their ability to reopen.
House and Senate Republicans are unmoved by the raft of polling showing high marks for the Biden plan. With floor votes just days away, they are mounting a last-ditch effort to change public opinion by branding the bill a wish list of expensive Democratic initiatives disguised as coronavirus relief. The package earmarks $350 billion to “bail out” mismanaged blue states, with money reserved for public schools unavailable to spend until 2022, Republicans emphasize.
Rep. Jason Smith of Missouri, the top Republican on the House Budget Committee, claims Democrats are rushing the American Recovery Plan through Congress to avoid scrutiny that could unravel its support. “They have no interest in allowing Americans time to reflect on the policies they have proposed — policies that will drive up the cost of living, destroy jobs, and bailout states that lockdown their citizens,” he said in a statement Monday.
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The Biden package passed the House Budget Committee on Monday, with a full floor vote on the measure expected as soon as week’s end.
From there, the bill heads to the Senate, where Democrats plan to use an arcane process known as “reconciliation” to avoid a Republican filibuster and pass the legislation with a simple majority vote. Democrats control narrow majorities in both chambers of Congress and have bickered over some elements of the bill, particularly the proposal to increase the federal minimum wage to $15 per hour over the next few years.
But buoyed by the broad political support for package so far and wanting to deliver Biden an early victory on a key campaign promise, Democrats are likely to unite behind some version of it.
“Republican senators playing political games and turning their backs on struggling Americans isn’t just the wrong approach to this public health and economic emergency,” Stewart Boss, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said in prepared remarks. “It’s a stunning refusal to listen to the bipartisan support for this overwhelmingly popular rescue plan across the country.”
Republicans on and off Capitol Hill say their gripes with the White House spending proposal are legitimate.
Biden campaigned on reopening public schools during his first 100 days in office. But the teachers unions, staunch Democratic allies, are balking. Congressional Republicans are questioning why his bill allocates money for public education if teachers unions say the funds will not guarantee their return to the classroom. Biden campaigned on bipartisanship. But he did not negotiate this package with Republicans, sparking criticism from, among others, GOP Gov. Larry Hogan of Maryland.
The challenge Republicans have in attempting to make a case against Biden’s recovery plan is that they have declined to offer a consensus alternative. To be sure, a group of Senate Republicans met with Biden at the White House and countered with a $600 million package that they argued was more finely targeted toward coronavirus and economic relief for people suffering because of the pandemic.
But the plan has not been adopted or promoted by Republicans writ large, leaving voters the impression that their choices are the Biden proposal, flawed though it may be, or nothing at all. That is a debate the president can win. “People believe there are things that need to be done,” Republican pollster David Winston said. “Simply rejecting everything out of hand doesn’t address that.”