Recently when the first federal mass vaccination site opened in Washington state, in Yakima, one of the dignitaries to hail it was naturally the local congressman.
“The COVID-19 vaccine is now available at the State Fair Park in Yakima!” announced Rep. Dan Newhouse, R-Sunnyside, exclamation point his.
He attached a press blurb about what was being called a pilot community vaccination center.
On the same day, though, he soon returned to his more regularly scheduled program: ripping the recently passed American Rescue Plan as a wasteful mess.
“President Biden’s $1.9 trillion debt-financed COVID-19 ‘rescue plan’ ignores the needs of communities like ours and spends far too many taxpayer dollars on unrelated priorities,” Newhouse wrote — dubbing it an “American recession plan.”
You can probably guess what’s coming next: The mass vaccination site, which has since given out 27,800 shots, was paid for by this same rescue plan, according to the office of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell. The act boosted FEMA funding by $50 billion, in part to pay for sites to help low-vaccination counties such as Yakima, with mobile units to reach underserved areas.
“Programs like this are exactly why I voted for the American Rescue Plan,” Cantwell, D-Wash., said, noting it had increased Yakima’s vaccination capacity by sixfold.
This has been happening all over the country: Republicans who voted en masse against the coronavirus relief effort then hailing or highlighting its spending provisions in their own districts. “Republicans promote pandemic relief they voted against,” read an Associated Press headline this past week.
It’s even got a catchphrase: Vote no and take the dough.
There was just a new round of it, when both Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, and Newhouse announced to their districts this past week the opening of an aid program for restaurants — again without mentioning that the source was the rescue plan they both voted against.
Newhouse went with the exclamation point again — “ATTN: #WA04 small business owners! Restaurant Revitalization Fund applications are now open.” The public was brutal in reply on Twitter: “Attn #WA04 small business owners! Rep. Dan Newhouse voted AGAINST this aid for your business TWICE.”
There’s a long history of politicians decrying pork in Congress only to welcome it when it arrives back in their districts. Especially in Central Washington’s 4th Congressional District — it’s basically a fed company town, one of the most taxpayer-propped-up districts in the nation, that can’t seem to tolerate its own lifeblood.
It’s also true that every spending bill presents dilemmas. To vote yes, members often find themselves forced to back some programs they may not like, while voting no doesn’t always mean you oppose the whole thing.
Both Newhouse and Herrera Beutler have said they felt the Rescue Plan was simply too big, adding to the debt to pay for a bloated, liberal “wish list.”
Wrote Newhouse: “It is inexcusable that Central Washington’s families are going to face tax hikes so the federal government can provide hotel rooms for the homeless in Seattle and San Francisco.”
Hey! Those homeless hotel rooms are also FEMA relief aid, just like the Yakima vax center. It’s for people sleeping on the streets because coronavirus restricted the occupancy of Seattle’s crowded group shelters. It’s legit, and pretty important over here, congressman.
I tend to agree with Republicans that the country can’t just keep piling up debt. But I find it tough to even listen to them talking about it anymore after they charged a $2 trillion tax cut to the nation’s credit card, much of it for corporations, back when both the economy and corporate profits were already soaring.
That decision was one of the most reckless federal government actions of our lifetimes. What it did was loot the treasury to feather the nests mostly of corporations and the already rich. It meant that we went into this period of national emergency with high levels of borrowing already.
How to fix all of this is going to be a huge political debate going forward. What’s needed now, though, is some straighter talk about it.
Deficit spending is crucial in a crisis. But I appreciate that the new president has at least broached the idea of tax hikes, because some pain is probably going to be necessary to get the government’s finances back in order after COVID wanes (for the liberals, it will mean some spending cuts, too).
My point is: Fine, go ahead and take the dough, even when you voted no. It’s an American tradition!
But own it. Tell people where the benefits are coming from, and what the trade-offs are. Don’t pretend the money is raining down, disconnected from politics — or worse, is somehow the handiwork of people who unanimously voted against it.
Because this mindset of something for nothing is how we got into this mess in the first place, of being a country that no longer seems capable of paying its bills.