The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion As Biden opens the spending floodgates, Republicans have no grounds to complain

President Biden signs the coronavirus relief package in the Oval Office of the White House on March 11. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

President Biden is proposing another $3 trillion in spending, and at this point there are no serious objections. There are objections, but none that can be taken seriously.

Even before the Democrats pushed through $1.9 trillion in spending this month, Republicans had lost their standing as the party of fiscal responsibility when most of them succumbed to the political virus of covid fever and rubber-stamped around $4 trillion in “covid relief,” a phrase that should always be reported in quotation marks since the money’s connection to covid-19 was tenuous at best. Then-President Donald Trump was among the worst offenders, arguing for more money than the amounts contained in the gargantuan packages that eventually gained bipartisan approval over the past year.

With Trump out and Biden in, Republicans suddenly pretended that their 2020 spending spree happened in some alternate universe. But the GOP’s united opposition to Biden’s $1.9 trillion package won’t wash off the stench of the hypocrisy.

For his part, Biden isn’t quite yet being given the credit — or blame, depending on your politics — for the sleight-of-hand he performed in front of the whole world in crafting a spending package that belongs alongside the New Deal and the Great Society. Biden now joins Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson to complete a holy trinity of presidents who pushed spending packages through Congress with socioeconomic impacts that will define their eras.

Never mind how misleading it was, and I say “never mind” in all sincerity because everyone knows and few care. The New Deal came about in response to a universally acknowledged economic depression of historic and debilitating magnitude. The Great Society was an answer to rampant poverty defined by racial divides that were indisputable. Both programs had their detractors, but the events that spurred their creation were widely acknowledged as real. In both cases, something had to be done.

Covid-19 is real, too, but it is by nature transitory, and nothing necessarily had to be done outside of some very targeted assistance at a fraction of what was spent. Things would get better on their own — more quickly thanks to vaccines — and numerous measures have indicated for months that the economy would recover without the help of artificial stimuli. But, as Winston Churchill and others have been credited as saying, never let a good crisis go to waste. So it is with covid-19.

Using emotional appeals about businesses closed and unemployment insurance expiring and so on — without any nods toward how politicians caused much of this suffering with their irresponsible overreaction in the first place — the Democrats passed a nearly $2 trillion spending package that is still underappreciated because it was so misleadingly advertised.

Biden himself corrected the record the minute the package was officially approved. After paying lip service to the relatively few parts of the American Rescue Plan that could actually be linked to covid relief, Biden crowed like a proud father over the meat of the plan, which includes direct payments to “over 85 percent of American households,” billions in food and nutrition assistance, and the one Biden liked best: “Taken altogether, this plan is going to make it possible to cut child poverty in half. Let me say that again — it’s significant, historic: It will cut child poverty in half.”

After the package became law, its magnitude became clearer. Commenting on the child poverty provisions, a Post analysis noted, “This under-the-radar success created what could be the most consequential piece of the $1.9 trillion package — one that, if made permanent, could approach the impact of the programs established under President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty.”

Using a headline that was humorous in its understatement, USA Today cited: “10 things you might not know are in Biden’s covid-19 relief package.” Just 10? Among them were billions for things such as support for minority farmers, expanding the Affordable Care Act, and helping “libraries, arts and humanities.” The New York Times reported just last week that “tucked into” the package are “tens of millions of dollars” for domestic violence programs. Every week seems to bring new revelations of the goodies hidden in the bill, like Internet Easter eggs.

Polls show the public is pretty much all in, and that won’t change. I noted a year ago that we had crossed the Rubicon, that our longtime flirtation with socialism had become a permanent relationship. Congratulations, Bernie Sanders. The GOP won’t become irrelevant because of its association with Trump, as some predict. It will diminish because it is bizarrely opposing now that which it helped make palatable just last year.

Fiscal responsibility is dead, and Republicans helped bury it. Put the shovels away, there’s no digging it up now.

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