Or, to hear Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) tell it on ABC’s “This Week”: “This is a Nancy Pelosi payoff to the liberal left.” Interviews with Barrasso and his colleague Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) on the Sunday talk shows aptly illustrated how Democrats, with a straightforward, tangible relief package, have rather easily neutered Republicans politically. The best way for Democrats to maintain that momentum is more of the same.
In the face of those strong polls for the president, the New York Times reports that “Republicans’ approach is to label the measure wasteful, unnecessary and packed with goodies for political allies of the Democrats.” But those attacks wilt next to the bill’s obvious benefits, as Barrasso found Sunday. After he complained that the bill “is not supposed to be a bailout,” host George Stephanopoulos showed Barrasso the front page of his home-state paper the Casper Star-Tribune, which “shows $1 billion going to your state of Wyoming.” Barrasso conceded that, but complained that “the formula they used to send this out was biased and unfair.” He might sincerely believe so, but it is doubtful that Wyomingites who are putting food on their tables thanks to this new bill care whether its formulas were fair or not.
Cassidy ran into similar troubles on “Fox News Sunday.” He defended his tweet asserting that “less than 10% of President Biden’s spending package is actually related to COVID relief” — only to agree with host Chris Wallace minutes later that “hundreds of billions of dollars go in economic stimulus to people and to businesses that have been hit hard by this pandemic.”
Those flimsy complaints aside, Cassidy and Barrasso fell back on exploitative talking points: “This coronavirus relief bill was not supposed to be about $1,400 checks to illegal immigrants or $1,400 checks to felons who are behind bars,” Barrasso complained. Cassidy also warned of “$1.9 billion to give stimulus checks to inmates.” Setting aside the fact that the money will provide crucial assistance for the families of the incarcerated, the two senators left out that previous stimulus packages from last March and December both included checks for prisoners. Republicans, including Cassidy and Barrasso, backed both.
But it seems not even conservatives really expect these attacks to work. Right-wing media has largely eschewed the stimulus bill, turning instead to the border crisis and painting it as the first big scandal of the Biden presidency. On Fox News’s “Sunday Morning Futures,” host Maria Bartiromo interviewed Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Tex.) and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) on the border crisis, with barely a question on the stimulus bill. Cornyn claimed Biden was “sending the signal that the border is open,” while Abbott said the White Houseis “putting our Border Patrol agents in harm’s way,” among other lurid accusations. But the fact that Bartiromo and her ilk have largely ceded the stimulus fight says all anyone needs to know about which party has the upper hand.
But Democrats can’t rest on their laurels. Whether the stimulus ends up helping Biden and the Democrats in next fall’s midterms remains an open question. Twenty months is an eon in politics. President Barack Obama’s 2009 stimulus package didn’t save Democrats from a Republican wave the following year.
The best way to keep Democrats’ assistance top of mind with voters is to keep passing more needed assistance. The Biden White House, fortunately, seems to recognize this, with infrastructure aid and a $15 minimum wage still on the agenda. Already some moderate Democrats — especially Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) — are wavering. They must understand that the more voters see Democrats working for them, the better the party’s fortunes. As for the inevitable question of how to pay for it, Democrats can raise trillions in revenue from politically popular proposals such as a wealth tax, a higher top income-tax rate and increased funding for IRS crackdowns on tax-dodging. The bigger the avalanche of aid, the more Republicans will be forced to rely on voter suppression and other counter-majoritarian tactics — which themselves can be blunted if Senate Democrats also push through the voting rights bill that the House passed earlier this month.
It’s a simple equation in the end: The more straightforward, tangible policies Democrats pass, the more Americans helped and the greater the political rewards. The relief package has gotten the Biden presidency off to a strong start. Now, Democrats must press their advantage.
This article has been updated to reflect that “Sunday Morning Futures” appears on Fox News.