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Opinion The GOP’s ‘money for me but not for thee’ approach to the American Rescue Plan

The U.S. Capitol on Dec. 18. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg News)

PHOENIX — Always remember the First Law of Fiscal Policy: “Wasteful” government spending is only the spending that goes to other people — not to me.

When Democrats passed their $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan in the spring, it received zero GOP votes. At the time, Republican politicians decried the stimulus package as “wasteful” and a parade of left-wing pet projects” that was “bankrupting our children.” In the months since, however, Republicans have been touting projects in their states and districts financed by that very same bill.

This unearned credit-hoarding began almost immediately. Before the bill even hit President Biden’s desk, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) trumpeted its benefits for restaurant owners (while omitting mention of his own “no” vote, naturally).

Similar boasts soon followed from Republican Reps. Madison Cawthorn (N.C.), Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), Troy Balderson (Ohio), Beth Van Duyne (Tex.) and others.

Republican state officials who once derided the bill as irresponsible, mistargeted or unfair are also now eagerly hoovering up its money. Even so, some still claim to oppose it.

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In her recent budget address, South Dakota Gov. Kristi L. Noem (R) blamed Biden’s agenda for “horrifically high inflation” and called the stimulus package a “giant handout.” She then indicated she was happy to stick her own hand out: Noem urged state lawmakers to spend South Dakota’s covid-relief allotment on investments in water infrastructure, public health, workforce development, child care and many other issues that … sound a lot like Democratic priorities.

Noem said she considered refusing the funds. But she changed her mind, she said, because the money might then go to “California, to New Jersey, maybe Illinois, Michigan or Minnesota.” That is: bluer states, where politicians are presumably less capable fiscal stewards.

Over in Ohio, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine also initially opposed the American Rescue Plan; then he signed GOP-sponsored state legislation appropriating billions of the federal package’s funds toward Ohio’s unemployment system, water and sewer management, pediatric behavioral health and other purposes.

In Texas, federal funds went to the unemployment system, hospitals, the tourism industry and food banks. Some dollars have also been reserved for tax cuts, though there are ongoing legal challenges about whether the money can be used this way.

And here in Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey (R) recently used the federal windfall in part to expand high-speed broadband to underserved areas. As Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini observed at the time, Ducey publicly thanked Republican state lawmakers for this “historic investment” — even though the money had come courtesy of federal Democrats.

Arizona has also used American Rescue Plan money to undermine covid precautions by offering special grants to schools that don’t implement mask or vaccine requirements. Pretty rich given pervasive GOP complaints about abuse of federal funds.

This “money for me but not for thee” approach is hardly unique to the American Rescue Plan. Consider a recent plea for disaster relief from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.).

Paul has long opposed federal aid when other states requested it for victims of hurricanes, 9/11 or other mass tragedies. He told The Post’s Mike DeBonis that his objections — including for aid for 9/11 — were driven by concerns about fiscal responsibility, and that he simply wanted new spending to be paid for. But Paul has opposed such spending even when it was paid for, arguing that any identified fiscal offsets should be used to pay down the debt rather than assist disaster victims.

“Everybody wants something, and somebody says, ‘Oh, there’s money in the treasury! Guess what? There’s not. There’s a big hole. A big, black hole in the treasury, $28 trillion dollars’ worth,” Paul fumed when his Republican colleague Sen. John Neely Kennedy (La.) asked for hurricane relief in July.

After tornadoes devastated Kentucky this month, Paul changed his tune. He asked Biden to “expeditiously” deploy federal assistance to his constituents. (Biden agreed and sent federal aid.)

We have, of course, seen this First Law of Fiscal Policy play out before, particularly in debates about safety net programs.

Not only among Republicans, by the way. Seemingly every American thinks they, and they alone, merit Uncle Sam’s beneficence — unlike those shirkers from other states, political persuasions or backgrounds. (The Second Law of Fiscal Policy is a corollary: The only acceptable tax hike is a tax hike on someone else.)

None of this is to suggest that Democrats should make, say, universal pre-K available only in blue states. Nor that tornado-ravaged Kentuckians and hungry Texans and broadband-less Arizonans don’t deserve federal resources. (Though I have some qualms about using federal dollars to subsidize state tax cuts or to incentivize anti-vaccine policies in schools.)

Constituents are entitled to relief funds and public investments, even if the Republicans they elect sometimes claim otherwise. But it might be helpful if voters, on occasion, noticed that Republicans are having their cake and gorging on it, too: condemning unspecified “Biden policies” as irresponsible and inflationary, while gobbling up credit for those same policies whenever they prove popular.