Blowout: House passes $1.9 trillion COVID stimulus, sending it to Biden's desk for signature

Can’t remember who it was but a few days ago a Twitter pal quipped that “The era of ‘the era of big government is over’ is over.” After several rounds and trillions of dollars spent in COVID stimulus under Democratic and Republican administrations, with even Mitt Romney pushing plans for novel forms of UBI, that’s undeniably right.

It’s worth remembering how close the GOP came to averting this outcome. On Election Day 2020 in Georgia, David Perdue finished with 49.7 percent of the vote in his race with Jon Ossoff, missing a winning majority by a few thousand extra votes. Had he won that race, McConnell would have been assured of at least 51 Republican seats and continuing control of the Senate, giving him and the caucus veto power over Biden’s stimulus plans. Because Perdue fell just short, and because the GOP and its leader then spent the next two months trying to convince Georgia voters that it was pointless to vote in their state’s “rigged” elections, Ossoff managed to squeak past Perdue in the January runoff.

That mistake was worth, oh, around $1.5 trillion extra in this bill, I’d guesstimate.

In the end it passed on a pure party-line vote, with one exception.

I’m mystified by the GOP’s failure to counter-message the bill, which is extremely popular according to three different polls I’ve seen today. In their defense, any package that’s promising to send checks to Americans and to keep beefed-up federal unemployment benefits going for six more months is a hard one to talk people out of liking. But one way to do it would have been to get more generous with the parts people liked and to cut the porkier parts, like aid to state and local governments, that they have less use for. That’s what freshman Peter Meijer called for a few days ago, proposing checks in the amount of $2,400 each while also purporting to cut a trillion dollars of extraneous spending from the bill. At the end of the day, Democrats had the votes to pass whatever they wanted to pass, but having the public chattering that “Republicans want to give us bigger checks than Democrats do!” would have made Biden and Pelosi sweat a bit.

Instead most of the Republican talking points focused on the fact that the bill was porky in not targeting its spending at the highest priorities (true) and that it would put even more strain on our enormous, creaking national debt (very true). The AP published this mind-bending story today right around the time the House was passing the new stimulus:

The U.S. government’s budget deficit through February hit an all-time high of $l.05 trillion for the first five months of a budget year, as spending to deal with the coronavirus pandemic surged at a pace far above an increase in tax revenue…

It easily surpassed the previous five-month deficit of $652 billion set in 2010 when the government was spending to try to lift the country out of the deep recession caused by the 2008 financial crisis.

The Congressional Budget Office has projected that the deficit for the budget year that ends on Sept. 30 will be $2.3 trillion. However, that estimate does not include the cost of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID relief measure, which has cleared the Senate and is up for approval in the House. Last year’s deficit, also driven higher by virus relief packages, was a record $3.1 trillion.

Bear in mind that Biden’s already talking about an infrastructure package on the order of $4 trillion in addition to the relief bill that just passed. That would have been the outrage to end all outrages for the tea-party GOP, but the post-Trump GOP has no credibility left on deficits and they’ve already partnered with Democrats on previous COVID stimulus mega-deals. And a public that’s holding its breath for the end of the pandemic and the explosion of economic growth that’ll hopefully follow is in no mood for belt-tightening. Which may explain why righty media has spent more time on Dr. Seuss later than attacking the relief bill: Last week more Republican voters said they’d heard “a lot” about six of Seuss’s books being withdrawn than they did about the House passing the first iteration of the stimulus package.

As for opinion of the bill itself, take your pick. Morning Consult finds 75 percent of Americans support it at least “somewhat,” including 59 percent of Republicans:

Pew has it at 70/28, with a pronounced divide between low-income Republicans and higher earners:

And CNN puts overall support at a more modest but still robust 61/37, with independents +19 and more than a quarter of Republicans in favor:

How much of a problem will all of that be for the GOP in the midterms? Eh. It’s possible if not likely that Democrats will roll another culture-war grenade into the national tent that ends up blowing up in their faces a la “defund the police.” And Republicans have the extreme advantage of being the out-party in the midterm, which all but guarantees gains. There’s also a chance that the bill itself will backfire on Democrats either by triggering inflation or by being seen as the proximate cause if the U.S. faces a debt crisis before 2022. But letting Dems take sole ownership of a popular bill that puts money directly into people’s pockets and will probably goose a major economic expansion is, uh, risky, obviously. And doing that when the White House is already all but guaranteed to take credit for ending the pandemic next year compounds the risk accordingly. Dems are going to run on a message of “We saved America!” Handing them the credit for a bill that’s polling at 60-70 percent doesn’t make that harder for them.