The GOP’s bet against chocolate chip cookies

Republicans gamble big on eventual unpopularity of COVID-19 law

The entirety of Kevin McCarthy’s House GOP Conference voted against the latest COVID-19 relief package, as did every Republican senator.  (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
The entirety of Kevin McCarthy’s House GOP Conference voted against the latest COVID-19 relief package, as did every Republican senator. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Jason Dick
Posted March 15, 2021 at 10:30am

Congressional Republicans have chosen one heck of a wedge issue: the immensely popular $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package signed into law on Thursday by President Joe Biden.

The GOP had its reasons for unanimously opposing the measure, to the tune of 49 Senate Republicans and 210 House Republicans.

There was the philosophical reason: It spends too much money. And there was the procedural reason: that Democrats, who narrowly control the House and Senate, didn’t bring them to the negotiating table.

But man, people like this law.

Polling by the Pew Research Center, Economist/YouGov, CBS News and Morning Consult all show support in the 70-plus percentage range, including majority support among Republicans. That’s, like, chocolate chip cookie popular.

Maybe Republicans are hoping to trash the law enough that those numbers come down in time to be politically advantageous come the 2022 midterms. But that is a huge gamble. Consider that the last time the GOP went all in dumping on a law, it was the Affordable Care Act.

That 2010 law, nowhere near as popular at its enactment as this latest COVID-19 relief measure, only became more popular over the years, as its benefits slowly kicked in.

By the time the GOP had unified control of Congress and the White House in 2017, lawmakers couldn’t muster a simple majority to repeal the law through the budget reconciliation process that allowed them to bypass a Senate filibuster.

Now consider that one of the more visible benefits of the relief package could start showing up in people’s bank accounts within days: direct payments of up to $1,400. That will be popular, because people like money.

You know what else will be popular? Neighborhood restaurants staying in business. A $28.6 billion grant program for independent restaurants and bars is tucked into the package.

“I am deeply grateful to the [Independent Restaurant Coalition], our congressional champions, and the White House for fighting for jobs like mine,” Pilar Garcia, former general manager of Woodfired Cantina in St. Paul, Minn., said in a release sent out by the IRC. “Thanks to the American Rescue Plan, countless servers, bussers, hosts, managers, chefs, and porters will not be sent to the unemployment line. These grants will lift up the entire restaurant community, and the impact of saving jobs will ripple throughout our national economy.”

That part was so popular that Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who voted “no” on the bill, touted it on Twitter. Wicker co-sponsored legislation to set up such a grant program, but he still voted against the bill. That’s a crack in the GOP armor that showed up within hours of final passage on Wednesday.

You know who else likes it? Local governments. A typical line of attack from Republicans is that the package is a “Pelosi payout” or some such thing, as if the only local government to get help is San Francisco, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s district. But the National Coalition of Counties, which represents 40,000 elected officials (they aren’t all Democrats), says the package is a lifeline.

“While counties face record demand for essential services, we have shed jobs at rates far outpacing the rest of the economy. Even as the nation’s economy inches toward recovery, one in every 10 jobs yet to be recovered is from our local governments. The American Rescue Plan advances us on the road to recovery, honors our frontline heroes, and equips us to help end the pandemic and drive economic recovery,” coalition executive director Matthew Chase said in a statement.

Translation? Cops, firefighters, ambulance drivers don’t have to worry about pink slips.

Who else likes this legislation? The stock market, for one. The Dow Jones Industrial Average spiked after House passage, to more than 32,000.

How about the travel industry? Shortly after the House sent the measure to Biden, American Airlines CEO Doug Parker and President Robert Isom sent a notice to their employees, specifically the 13,000 who had been given imminent furlough notices last month: “Those are happily canceled — you can tear them up!” United Airlines quickly followed suit and canceled another 14,000 imminent layoffs.

Parker and Isom added in their letter: “If you see your local Congressional representative on a flight, be sure to thank her or him for their work this past year and for recognizing the noble work you all do every day.”

So, are the Republicans who voted against this installment going to correct the grateful folks who do so and tell them they had nothing to do with this?

Maybe they’ll split hairs. Something along the lines of: “Well, you can thank me for the first few bills we passed last year, but just not this last one, because, you see, the Democrats used reconciliation, which is this fast-track process that subverts the hallowed tradition of the filibuster, and Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer hurt my feelings and weren’t bipartisan, and Joe Biden promised to unify us, and it wasn’t all that necessary to begin with, because there are some unspent funds, you see, in these accounts in the Treasury Department.”

Nope.

In politics, one of the most applicable axioms is, if you’re explaining, you’re losing. Here’s another one, especially applicable when people are tearing up furlough notices and cashing checks: Money talks. BS walks.

Jason Dick is the deputy editor of CQ Roll Call.