Sen. John Kennedy – the Republican senator from Louisiana, not the guy who became president in 1961 – recently attacked President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion stimulus bill in stark terms: “This is a left of Lenin, neo-socialist wish list.” If Kennedy is right, then we must be living in a left-of-Lenin country, given that, according to polls, the Biden plan has the support of 76% of voters, including 60% of Republicans.
The Louisiana senator’s declaration was plain silly, but his GOP colleagues in the Senate and House offered up few better justifications for their unanimous votes against the bill. Democrats now can claim full credit when relief checks start arriving in the mailboxes of millions of stressed and cash-strapped Americans.
The Biden scheme, dubbed the American Rescue Plan, is a massive spending program that will finally test the Democrats’ long-held belief that, in the face of a serious economic downturn, government should not only flood a lot of money into the economy, that money should go to those who need it most and who will spend it most quickly, the poor and middle class. The last time this was attempted back in 2009 when President Barack Obama tried to push through a big stimulus bill to pull the economy out of the Great Recession, congressional Republicans whacked and whittled away at his plan. The result, many economists contend, was a much slower recovery.
Biden was not going to let that happen again. Sure, he could have stretched out the process by seeking a bipartisan deal with Republicans, but the likely result would have been a diminished piece of legislation inadequate for the purpose of sustaining the economy and battling the coronavirus pandemic. Too many compromises would have also caused a rift among Democrats and, as was the case for Obama, Biden would have gained few if any GOP votes in the end. Instead, he got the job done without them.
For decades, Republicans have built their economic policy around the simplistic theory that cutting taxes for the wealthy is the best way to goose the economy. From President George W. Bush’s tax cut early in his first term to the tax cut in the Trump years, Republicans tested their theory. The result: the rich got even more rich and everyone else stagnated.
Now, we will see if the Democrats have gotten it right. If it works and the economy shoots back to life by the end of the year, Republicans could have a problem. Voters might decide they prefer the party that gave stimulus money directly to them to help pay the rent over the party that shoveled money to people with a mansion, a summer home and a ski retreat in Aspen.
As Marx said, “While money can’t buy happiness, it certainly lets you choose your own form of misery.” That Marx, by the way, was not Lenin’s comrade; it was Groucho.
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