Politicians rarely regret voting ‘no’

GOP already lining up multiple lines of criticism on COVID-19 law

Will Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans regret their votes against the COVID-19 relief package? Probably not, Rothenberg writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Will Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republicans regret their votes against the COVID-19 relief package? Probably not, Rothenberg writes. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted March 16, 2021 at 10:00am

OPINION — For the past couple of weeks, anchors and talking heads in the mainstream news media have been chewing over the same question: Will Republicans “regret” their unanimous vote against President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan?

We have absolutely no idea what the economy will look like in the late summer and fall of 2022. Nor do we know what the top issues of the day will be in September and October of next year, when the midterm election dynamics will be in full swing.

Will there be a new crisis or crises? What will the president’s and vice president’s health be like? Will we be in a war? Will there be embarrassing revelations about the administration — or about the Republican Party?

Will inflation be a problem or not? The Biden administration insists that its spending plan will not set off a round of inflation, but they have to say that, don’t they? If they said anything else, it would give ammunition to their opponents.

One thing that the Republicans say is surely true: Biden’s $1.9 trillion measure does balloon the deficit, forcing higher interest payments on the debt, now or for generations to come.

But voters rarely seem to care about the deficit until other economic issues surface and create larger economic concerns.

Even the GOP — once, but no longer, the party of fiscal responsibility — didn’t much care about the deficit and the debt when President Donald Trump and his merry little band of tax-cutting ideologues cut taxes during a period of solid economic growth — almost always a bad idea. You won’t hear Republicans accepting some of the blame for the deficit and debt.

Most Republicans won’t regret their votes because they represent ideologically homogenous districts where voters don’t put bipartisan cooperation as a high priority and don’t see Democrats as fair-minded legislative partners.

For most GOP members of Congress, the Democratic agenda, even if it results in strong economic growth, is dragging the country toward socialism and undermining individual liberty. As such, it is inherently dangerous, and even evil.

Republicans in a couple of dozen competitive states and districts who opposed the Biden plan might be put on the defensive if the economy sees strong growth next year and the country generally feels a sense of relief after the last year of COVID-19.

But it is always easy to find scapegoats and other issues to justify a “no” vote on a piece of high-profile legislation — even if is only to complain about the lack of bipartisanship.

Republicans, even in competitive seats, can always argue that however good a piece of legislation, it could always have been better, more financially reasonable, and more targeted to those in need.

In other words, it is almost always easier to vote “no,” since there are plenty of excuses after the fact. If a legislator votes “yes,” he or she is responsible for the entire bill and all the consequences of the legislation, good or bad, intended or unintended.

So the burden is heavily on the Biden White House and Democrats in Congress to deliver on their promises of economic growth, falling unemployment and a better life for the poor, all without spiking inflation or interest rates.

Obviously, the politics of 2022 are less about the Democrats’ “American Rescue Plan” and more about conditions in the country when the midterms roll around. (Except that it is certainly true that the legislation reflects the two parties’ priorities, concerns and values.)

Democrats passed the legislation believing that it will improve people’s lives, while Republicans put themselves in a position to criticize it as “big government,” “out of control spending,” and “socialist handouts” that will destroy the country.

Even if the plan is effective, Republicans will find things to complain about. And that is the beauty of voting “no.”

The question is whether congressional Democrats and the Biden White House can get credit for a growing economy (through a “Morning in America” message) but also find a way to turn out Democratic voters the way they did in 2020, whether via voting rights, health care or the danger of a Trump-led GOP coming back to control Congress in 2023.