The popularity of the US stimulus puts Republicans in a bind

Hours after the US House of Representatives voted to approve Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 billion coronavirus relief package, Roger Wicker, a senator from Mississippi, celebrated the bill’s support for struggling restaurant owners.

“Independent restaurateurs have won $ 28.6 billion in targeted relief,” Wicker said on Twitter. “This funding will allow small businesses to survive the pandemic by helping them adjust their operations and keep their employees on the payroll.”

But Wicker’s comments sparked outrage from Democrats, who pointed out that he, like all other Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill, had voted against the economic stimulus bill.

“Republicans are not ashamed,” said Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “They voted against critical relief for the American people during a national crisis. Now they’re trying to take credit for it? Heck no. “

Wicker’s comments underscored the challenge for GOP lawmakers as they attempt to separate a bill that opinion polls have found hugely popular with the American public – and which Democrats hope to spur an economic recovery. which will catapult them to electoral success halfway through next year. elections.

The American Rescue Plan Act, the second largest economic stimulus bill in U.S. history, is Joe Biden’s flagship piece of legislation. It includes one-time checks of $ 1,400 for Americans earning up to $ 75,000 a year, an extension of federal unemployment benefits until early September, and thousands of dollars in child tax credits, among others. provisions.

A Pew poll released Tuesday showed that 70% of American adults supported the bill, compared to 28% who said they were against. Among Republicans or Independents who said they “lean on Republicans,” 41% said they were in favor of the package.

“The package is popular and widely supported, and Republican objections to it have not been convincing enough or consistent enough to cause the bill any real damage at this point,” said Whit Ayres, a veteran Republican pollster.

“It’s difficult, obviously,” he added. “When you give away free stuff, it’s hard to make an argument against it, especially when the vast majority of Americans are going to get free stuff.”

Republican congressional leaders have sought to present the bill as a bloated Democratic “wish list” of unnecessary spending that goes far beyond considering the economic impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

A little after Biden signed the bill Thursday, Kevin McCarthy, the House’s top Republican, called the legislation “costly, corrupt and liberal” and said it was full of “blue state bailouts” for states and democratic cities. The package includes $ 350 billion in funding for state and local governments, many of which struggled during the pandemic with higher costs and lower tax revenues.

“From a blue state bailout that would allow San Francisco to wipe out 92 percent of its budget deficit to extravagant bonuses for government employees, this legislation puts the interests of the swamp first,” McCarthy said. .

Most Democrats aren’t fazed by the critics. Matt Bennett, co-founder of the centrist Democrat think tank Third Way, said Republicans “live in the past” by trying to attack the bill in the same way they did after the response from Barack Obama in the financial crisis in 2009.

“In 2009, they were able to effectively attack [the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] because it was very opaque to people, what they got out of it was very hard to see, ”Bennett said. * “I think Republicans believe they live in this world, but they aren’t. They live in a world where most Americans are on the verge of getting some money they could really use, and that’s a whole different thing. “

Bennett added that history showed that the public often rallied behind the Presidential Party in times of crisis, from Franklin Roosevelt in the Great Depression to George W Bush in the aftermath of 9/11 – which may well bode Democrats in mid – Mandate for next year, when Republicans try to regain control of the House and Senate.

“This historical precedent of strong public support for the crisis response, combined with the fairly easy sell that Democrats now have for [the stimulus]suggests that the midterms might not play out the way Republicans think they will, ”Bennett said.

For their part, several Republicans say the stimulus debate highlights the divisions within a party that is still struggling over how to deal with Donald Trump. As president, Trump has pushed for aggressive government spending and even floating $ 2,000 direct payments despite opposition from the more budget-conservative members of his own party.

“What we’re seeing is the Republican Party identity crisis,” said Carlos Curbelo, a former Florida GOP congressman.

“The Republican Party, while Trump was in the White House, became familiar with populism,” he added. “With unanimous opposition to this package, which is popular among Americans and which Donald Trump would likely have signed into law had he been in the White House, Republicans are somewhat rejecting Trump’s more populist policies and reverting to the small government. conservatism for which he is best known in recent decades.

But Curbelo, a Trump critic, stopped before saying the strategy would pay off for his party midway through, adding: ‘It will depend on how much credit Biden can claim for what should be a few years of growth. economical robust. . “

*This story has been edited to correct the name of Obama’s stimulus bill

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