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.