WASHINGTON (AP) – Republicans have a target for President Joe Biden’s $ 1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package: erode public support for the bailout by portraying it as too big, too bloated, and too much unnecessary public spending for a near-over pandemic.
Senate Republicans prepared to vote all-out against the relief bill on Friday, taking the calculated political risk that Americans will degrade over large spending on vaccine distribution, unemployment benefits, money for States and other expenses as unnecessary, once they have learned all the details. . Picking up a page of their 2009 withdrawal from Barack Obama’s costly recovery from the financial crisis, they expect their opposition to pay political rewards, just as the previous effort contributed to the Republicans’ rise to power. bedroom.
It is a tested strategy but comes at an uncertain and unstable time for the nation. Americans are seeing glimmers of optimism on the first anniversary of the deadly epidemic as more people are vaccinated. But new strains of the virus and a still fragile economy could trigger another devastating cycle of infections, lockdowns and deaths. Over 500,000 Americans have died.
So far, public support for Biden’s approach to the pandemic has been high. Overall, 70% of Americans support the Democratic president’s handling of the response to the virus, including 44% of Republicans, according to a new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Biden and the Democrats who back him warn that now is not the time to abandon aid – better to risk doing too much, than too little. They say the costs of reducing the risk of bailouts are blocking economic recovery, as many believed in 2009.
“When the house is on fire, you don’t discuss how much fire to put out,” Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., Said in Friday’s session.
“You do whatever it takes until the crisis is over,” she said. “And you do it as fast as you can.”
The debate in Congress reflects a fundamental division in the country over how to contain and crush the pandemic and get the nation back to normal. Almost 10 million jobs have been lost, some 11 million households are at risk of evictions. While Democratic leaders generally side with medical professionals who support social distancing restrictions and facilitate the reopening of schools and workplaces, Republicans in Congress have been more keen to conduct their business as close as possible. of the usual.
The United States is not alone in facing the daunting dilemma that has serious ramifications for the size and scope of the aid needed to avert yet another economic catastrophe.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell, who is leading his minority party to “no,” said Biden’s 628-page bill was a “roaring recovery.”
“We are already on the right track to bounce back from the crisis,” he said.
Republicans argue Congress has already approved historic sums to counter the pandemic and fear big spending could overheat the economy, increasing inflation fears, though economists are split on those concerns. They have an opening with voters who polls show are skeptical of Biden’s handling of the economy.
McConnell expressed similar optimism last spring when he “paused” on new spending after the approval of the first round of aid, his massive $ 3 trillion CARES. At that time, then-President Donald Trump promised Americans would be pretty much back to normal by Easter Sunday.
But as Texas announced this week, it would seek to end face mask requirements, one of the key strategies according to public health officials to help stop the spread of the virus, political loopholes and the anxieties that resurface. Texas was among the first states to reopen in May, easing restrictions at the start of the second wave of the summer-long pandemic.
Jason Furman, the former chairman of the Obama Council of Economic Advisers who now teaches at Harvard, agrees that parts of Biden’s package are too big, suggesting that the $ 350 billion given to states and cities could be reduced or have stricter guardrails against waste. But he said the biggest economic danger was not doing enough.
Vaccines alone are not enough to ensure a healthy economy, he said. Households are in difficulty and businesses are faced with changing consumption and spending habits. The Biden package offers direct payments of $ 1,400 to individuals, phased out for those earning $ 80,000 per year.
“If you add up the financial needs of households and the deficits that states are facing, the US bailout fills them too much,” he said via email. “But no legislation is perfect and, like I said, if the downside is that families get a little more money in any given year, it’s a lot less serious than if Congress does not act. “
While Biden has embarked on a self-sustaining partisan strategy, relying on Democratic votes for the passage, Republicans are in combat mode.
Senate Republicans forced an overnight reading of the bill Thursday, delaying the start of debate.
On Friday, they began proposing what will be dozens of amendments intended in part to change the bill, but also to highlight expensive spending and less popular provisions. One of the Democrats’ own amendments, aimed at reducing supplementary unemployment benefits from $ 400 a week to $ 300, was to divide their ranks and cause further delays.
Senator Ron Johnson, R-Wis., Who forced the bill to read early Friday morning, used graphics and props to help Americans understand the size of the $ 1.9 trillion package.
“The human mind can’t really contemplate what a trillion is,” he said, before jumping into examples. He suggested that a stack of $ 1 bills would extend the distance halfway to the moon.
GOP Senator Mike Braun of Indiana said that by the time they are done they hope to turn public opinion around.
“We are going to expose all the horrific details of it,” he said.
The White House is well aware of the challenges ahead. Many of Biden’s staff are veterans of the 2009 battles.
Press secretary Jen Psaki said at the time on Friday that they had not done enough to explain the benefits to the American people in a way “that people would talk at their table.”
Associated Press writers Josh Boak and Zeke Miller contributed to this story.