The Bidens boarding Marine One
President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden prepare to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House Friday, Feb. 26, 2021, en route to Joint Base Andrews, Maryland to begin their trip to Texas. (Official White House Photo by Carlos Fyfe)

As Pres­i­dent Joe Biden and Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Har­ris hit the road to explain and sell Amer­i­cans on ben­e­fits of the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan, Repub­li­can mem­bers of Con­gress are tout­ing their con­tri­bu­tions to a sweep­ing pack­age of social and eco­nom­ic relief that they unan­i­mous­ly opposed.

They are attempt­ing a reprise of 2009, when Repub­li­cans suc­ceed­ed in hold­ing down the size of Pres­i­dent Obama’s Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act, vot­ed against it any­way, but then claimed cred­it for projects sprout­ing in their dis­tricts. An aloof­ness from nit­ty grit­ty pol­i­tics kept Oba­ma from the sort of retail events being held this week by Biden and Vice Pres­i­dent Kamala Harris.

We begin with a tweet from Alaska’s Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Lisa Murkows­ki, up for reelec­tion next year, who was snubbed by Alas­ka Repub­li­can vot­ers in the 2010 pri­ma­ry, only to be returned to the Sen­ate as a write-in candidate:

“There are good and nec­es­sary things in the (Res­cue) bill that I was able to shape and influ­ence. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the Democ­rats final prod­uct went far beyond relief.”

An astute strat­e­gy: The Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan pro­vides $31.2 bil­lion in aid for America’s trib­al gov­ern­ments and native com­mu­ni­ties. The native pop­u­la­tion accounts for near­ly twen­ty per­cent of the vote in Alas­ka. Giv­en the vast­ness of the Last Fron­tier, the Biden pro­gram has tan­gi­ble help, such as $140 mil­lion for infor­ma­tion tech­nolo­gies, tele­health and elec­tron­ic health records infrastructure.

The sheer gall award belongs to Sen. Roger Wick­er, R‑Mississippi, a nay vote from a very needy state. He took note that the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan pro­vides for $28.6 bil­lion in aid to the nation’s restau­rants. “Inde­pen­dent restau­rant oper­a­tors have won $28.6 bil­lion worth of tar­get­ed relief,” Wick­er tweeted.

“This fund­ing will ensure small busi­ness­es can sur­vive the pan­dem­ic by help­ing to adapt their oper­a­tions and keep their employ­ees on the payroll.”

He vot­ed nay but has con­trived to claim credit.

Wick­er and Sen­a­tor Krys­ten Sine­ma, D‑Arizona, did pro­pose a restau­rant fund­ing amend­ment that, not­ing its spon­sors, had sup­port in both parties.

Wick­er was left wig­gling, dis­miss­ing a reporter’s “stu­pid ques­tion” on whether he was try­ing to take cred­it for Biden’s res­cue plan.

“One good pro­vi­sion in a $1.9 tril­lion bill doesn’t mean I have to vote for the whole thing,” Wick­er argued. He is no stranger to the tac­tic, hav­ing spiked the foot­ball at the U.S. Coast Guard build­ing a new polar ice­break­er at a Mis­sis­sip­pi ship­yard. No mind that Sen­a­tors Murkows­ki and Maria Cantwell, D‑Washington, pushed hard for the authorization.

The Repub­li­cans are in a bind. The Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan pro­vides urgent­ly need COVID-19 pan­dem­ic relief, and with the child tax cred­it takes strides toward halv­ing child pover­ty in Amer­i­ca. Polls have shown it with two-thirds sup­port among Amer­i­cans, and even backed by much of the Repub­li­can base.

With the Recov­ery Act in 2009, Think Progress count­ed one hun­dred and four­teen Repub­li­cans who tout­ed ben­e­fits of the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion recov­ery plan while vot­ing against it. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive John Yarmuth, D‑Kentucky, House Bud­get Com­mit­tee chair, told col­leagues last week that “what we are all con­cerned about on our side is that Repub­li­cans are all going to vote against this, and then they’re going to show up at every rib­bon cut­ting, and at every project fund­ed out of this bill, and they’re going to pump up their chests and take cred­it for all of these great ben­e­fits that are com­ing to their citizens.”

Two big “shov­el ready” projects in this state were ready for the Oba­ma Recov­ery Act: the cleanup of nuclear waste at Han­ford and removal of the old, fish killing Glines Canyon Dam on the Elwha Riv­er in Olympic Nation­al Park.

Then-Rep. Doc Hast­ings, R‑Washington, con­jured up the image as Hanford’s bring-home-the-bacon con­gress­man. The real cred­it for hav­ing a project ready belonged large­ly to Sen. Pat­ty Mur­ray, D‑Washington. When she ran for reelec­tion in 2010, how­ev­er, Mur­ray lost the Tri-Cities by a large margin.

I was hang­ing out with friends at the mouth of the Elwha Riv­er not long ago, pals active in con­ser­va­tion efforts. We mar­veled at a riv­er restor­ing itself, its estu­ary con­stant­ly chang­ing, with knowl­edge that salmon are start­ing to dis­cov­er the sev­en­ty miles of spawn­ing habi­tat opened by removal of the two hun­dred and ten-foot-high dam. It’s America’s largest riv­er restora­tion project, until and unless Biden puts Snake Riv­er dam removal into his infra­struc­ture plan.

Still, my com­pan­ions knew noth­ing of the vital role played by the Recov­ery Act in what we were see­ing in the mas­ter riv­er sys­tem of Olympic Nation­al Park.

The “sell­ing” job for the Oba­ma stim­u­lus was a Dis­cov­ery Park appear­ance by a bad­ly briefed Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary Ken Salazar.

Salazar was mem­o­rably upstaged by two bald eagles fly­ing high overhead.

Back to 2021: New­ly elect­ed Flori­da Repub­li­can Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Maria Elvi­ra Salazar (no rela­tion to the for­mer Inte­ri­or Sec­re­tary) spiked the foot­ball last week, tweet­ing: “BREAKING… so proud to announce that the Biden Admin­is­tra­tion has just imple­ment­ed my bipar­ti­san COVID relief bill as part of @SBAgov.”

She linked to a web­site state­ment, con­tain­ing the quote: “I am so proud that my bipar­ti­san leg­is­la­tion has offi­cial­ly become SBA policy.”

As Vox report­ed, “The tim­ing of the tweet, com­ing one day after the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan was signed, led many to believe the law­mak­er was refer­ring to the COVID-19 relief bill Salazar vot­ed against – that bill con­tains $15 bil­lion in Eco­nom­ic Injury Dis­as­ter Loans fund­ing. But the SBA deci­sion she high­light­ed is actu­al­ly dis­tinct from the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan… “

It’s not tech­ni­cal­ly cor­rect to say Salazar is claim­ing cred­it for the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan, Vox not­ed, but “her claim that the Biden admin­is­tra­tion ‘imple­ment­ed’ her ‘bipar­ti­san COVID relief bill’ is false.

The bill in ques­tion hasn’t come up for a vote in Con­gress, and it doesn’t appear that the SBA’s deci­sion was inspired by it.”

Salazar has gone snarky, say­ing her boast­ful state­ment “has noth­ing to do with the $1.9 T Blue State Bailout. I intro­duced sep­a­rate­ly that was adopt­ed by SBA.”

We’ll see much more of this. Our state’s three Repub­li­can House mem­bers have, so far, respond­ed with par­ti­san boil­er­plate and, with Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Dan New­house, (D‑04-WA) Nan­cy Pelosi bashing.

Still, Demo­c­ra­t­ic con­gres­sion­al offices have a duty to show tax­pay­ers what the Amer­i­can Res­cue Plan mon­ey is doing. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Suzan Del­Bene, (D‑01-WA) has react­ed quick­ly with a descrip­tion of dol­lars going into the 1st Dis­trict, includ­ing con­ser­v­a­tive rur­al What­com Coun­ty that votes against her.

Our con­gres­sion­al offices fre­quent­ly put out releas­es on bills our rep­re­sen­ta­tives have intro­duced that stand no chance of pas­sage, or boil­er­plate state­ments react­ing to recent events that reit­er­ate their views and posi­tions. As of last week, how­ev­er, they have a land­slide of new mate­r­i­al… the most sweep­ing social spend­ing leg­is­la­tion since Lyn­don John­son was in the White House.

For once, ben­e­fits focus on mid­dle income fam­i­lies and the work­ing poor – in mas­sive con­trast to Repub­li­cans’ 2017 tax “relief” bill.

It’s time to show that gov­ern­ment works, gov­ern­ment helps.

In short, it’s show time.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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