If Joe Biden really wanted to aim for a bipartisan start to his administration, perhaps he should have checked in with a few Republicans first. His amnesty plan immediately turned off the last two Gang of Eight GOP Senators from 2013. Now every centrist-ish Republican has gone on record to reject Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill, arguing it’s too big — and too soon since the last almost-trillion-dollar bill just four weeks ago:
Republicans who would be critical to get to the finish line said they’re open to additional money to speed up distribution of the Covid-19 vaccine, but balked at Biden’s overall price tag. Some called on Biden to pare back the plan while others suggested waiting a few months to see if the economic need persists.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the most moderate Republicans, said she’s “sympathetic” to boosting vaccine funds but doesn’t see the justification for a bill “that is so big.”
“It’s hard for me to see when we just passed $900 billion of assistance why we would have a package that big,” Collins told reporters Thursday. “Maybe a couple of months from now, the needs will be evident and we will need to do something significant, but I’m not seeing it right now.”
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, called Biden’s request “significant,” adding that “the ink is barely dry on the $900 billion” bill.
Biden’s also lost Mitt Romney, whose fiscal conservatism has been fairly consistent throughout the pandemic. Romney wants money spent directly on COVID-related responses rather than stimulus, and might not even go for anything additional north of $500 billion:
“My own view is that what’s holding back the economy is Covid, not money,” he said. “I want to do everything we can to get the Covid vaccines out. But once the Covid vaccine is out and people are inoculated, I believe you’ll see the economy coming back.”
The Washington Post claims that Biden’s proposal is “crashing into a partisan buzz saw,” but that might be a reflection of the partisan hobby horses Biden tossed into the package. It’s also a result of partisan operations around the bill itself, as the Biden team didn’t do much engagement across the aisle:
Biden’s relief package is being declared dead on arrival by senior Senate Republicans, some of whom say there has been little, if any, outreach from the Biden team to get their support. Liberals are demanding the president abandon attempts to make a bipartisan deal altogether and instead ram the massive legislation through without GOP votes. And outside groups are turning up the pressure for Biden and the Democrats who control Congress to enact economic relief quickly, even if it means cutting Republicans out of the deal.
In the face of these competing pressures, Biden may discover he can get a big covid-19 stimulus bill or a bipartisan deal — but not both. The path Biden chooses with his first major piece of legislation could set the tone for the remainder of his first term in office, revealing whether he can make good on his promise to unify Congress and the country. …
But when Biden’s relief plan rang in at nearly $2 trillion this month, and included liberal priorities like an increase in the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, some Republicans saw it as a sign that Biden wasn’t really serious about getting their support. Even those Republicans who have suggested they’re open to making a deal have made clear that the package would need to undergo significant changes.
The minimum-wage hike is so off-topic that it seemed designed to provoke a partisan response. It’s also a very dumb way to respond to an economic crisis. Making labor more expensive will force businesses to either cut staff or raise prices, and the latter is almost impossible in such a serious economic downturn. When the economy picks back up after the pandemic, the much-higher labor costs will make it much more difficult to reopen businesses or launch new businesses, especially in retail. This would create even more pressure on unemployment programs; the cost cascade would be nearly endless.
Had the new White House bothered to ask Republicans about it, they might have gotten the message. That might be why they never did bother to ask Republicans about the bill:
Outreach to GOP lawmakers before and after the plan’s release appears to have occurred only at the staff level so far and has been confined to a limited number of senators, including members of a bipartisan group who helped break a stalemate over coronavirus relief legislation late last year.
On Sunday, Biden economic adviser Brian Deese is scheduled to directly brief the senators in that group on a Zoom call. But as of Friday, Senate GOP leadership had not been formally briefed, and multiple GOP lawmakers who are part of the bipartisan talks said they had heard nothing from the White House, even though Biden pitched himself on the campaign trail as a bipartisan dealmaker.
The first impressions of the Biden administration are that the president is taking a page from his former boss’ playbook. Barack Obama liked to declare his proposals bipartisan too, even while locking Republicans out of the drafting process. Obama did that on the $900 billion Porkulus bill at the very start of his presidency, telling Republicans at one point “I won” when they demanded some engagement. That was, by the way, exactly 12 years ago, and over a very similar partisan “crap sandwich,” as Allahpundit put it at the time.
Biden’s claim to bipartisanship is simply a replay of the Obama Tautology: I say I am bipartisan and therefore everything I do is bipartisan. Therefore, any disagreements are due to Republican partisanship, not my own. The national media played along with Obama on that claim for a very long time, even with ObamaCare, one of the most partisan major policy efforts to ever pass Congress. Will they do the same with Biden? So far the answer seems to be yes, but Biden doesn’t have the numbers in Congress that Obama enjoyed … for two years, anyway, when the Obama Tautology imploded in his first midterm. That should be a lesson to Biden and the media, but it probably won’t be.