So 10 Republican senators are proposing an economic package that is supposed to be an alternative to President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan. The proposal would reportedly be only a fraction of the size of Biden’s plan and would in important ways cut the heart out of economic relief.
Republicans, however, want Biden to give in to their wishes in the name of bipartisanship. Should he?
No, no, 1.9 trillion times no.
It’s not just that what we know about the GOP proposal indicates that it’s grotesquely inadequate for a nation still ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic. Beyond that, by their behavior — not just over the past few months but going back a dozen years — Republicans have forfeited any right to play the bipartisanship card, or even to be afforded any presumption of good faith.
Let’s start with the substance.
By any measure, January was the worst pandemic month so far. More than 95,000 Americans died of COVID-19; hospitalizations remain far higher than they were at previous peaks.
True, the end of the nightmare is finally in sight. If all goes well, at some point this year enough people will have been vaccinated that we’ll reach herd immunity, the pandemic will fade away and normal life can resume. But that’s unlikely to happen before late summer or early fall.
And in the meantime we’re going to have to remain on partial lockdown. It would, for example, be folly to reopen full-scale indoor dining. And the continuing lockdown will impose a lot of financial hardship. Unemployment will remain very high; millions of businesses will struggle to stay afloat; state and local governments, which aren’t allowed to run deficits, will be in dire fiscal straits.
What we need, then, is disaster relief to get afflicted Americans through the harsh months ahead. And that’s what the Biden plan would do.
Republicans, however, want to rip the guts out of this plan. They are seeking to reduce extra aid to the unemployed and, more important, cut that aid off in June — long before we can possibly get back to full employment. They want to eliminate hundreds of billions in aid to state and local governments. They want to eliminate aid for children. And so on.
This isn’t an offer of compromise; it’s a demand for near-total surrender. And the consequences would be devastating if Democrats were to give in.
But what about bipartisanship? As Biden might say, “C’mon, man.”
First of all, a party doesn’t get to demand bipartisanship when many of its representatives still won’t acknowledge that Biden won legitimately, and even those who eventually acknowledged the Biden victory spent weeks humoring baseless claims of a stolen election.
Complaints that it would be “divisive” for Democrats to pass a relief bill on a party-line vote, using reconciliation to bypass the filibuster, are also pretty rich coming from a party that did exactly that in 2017, when it enacted a large tax cut — legislation that, unlike pandemic relief, wasn’t a response to any obvious crisis but was simply part of a conservative wish list.
Oh, and that tax cut was rammed through in the face of broad public opposition: Only 29% of Americans approved of the bill, while 56% disapproved. By contrast, the main provisions of the Biden plan are very popular: 79% of the public approve of new stimulus checks, and 69% approve of both expanded unemployment benefits and aid to state and local governments.
So when one party is trying to pursue policies with overwhelming public support while the other offers lock-step opposition, who, exactly, is being divisive?
Wait, there’s more.
Everyone knew that Republicans, who abruptly stopped caring about deficits when Donald Trump took office, would suddenly rediscover the horror of debt under Joe Biden. What even I didn’t expect was to see them complain that Biden’s plan gives too much help to relatively affluent families.
Again, consider the 2017 tax cut. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, that bill gave 79% of its benefits to people making more than $100,000 a year. It gave more to Americans with million-dollar-plus incomes, just 0.4% of taxpayers, than the total tax break for those living on less than $75,000 a year, that is, a majority of the population. And now Republicans claim to care about equity?
In short, everything about this Republican counteroffer reeks of bad faith — the same kind of bad faith the GOP displayed in 2009 when it tried to block President Barack Obama’s efforts to rescue the economy after the 2008 financial crisis.
Obama, unfortunately, failed to grasp the nature of his opposition and watered down his policies in a vain attempt to win support across the aisle. This time, it seems as if Democrats understand what Lucy will do with that football and won’t be fooled again.
So it’s OK for Biden to talk with Republicans and hear them out. But should he make any substantive concessions in an attempt to win them over? Should he let negotiations with Republicans delay the passage of his rescue plan? Absolutely not. Just get it done.
Paul Krugman, winner of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science, is an Op-Ed columnist for The New York Times.