GOP not worried about voting against popular relief bill

Republicans are dismissing the idea that they’ll be punished at the ballot box for voting against President Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package.

The relief measure is expected to get few, if any, GOP votes as it moves through Congress in the coming weeks. Democrats are trying to pressure Republicans into voting for the package, touting polls that show it’s popular with the public.

Republicans counter that much of the bill is focused on Democrats’ longstanding priorities rather than coronavirus relief. And strategists note that it’s unclear whether voters will be thinking about the relief package closer to the midterm elections, which are more than a year and a half away. 

“I don’t see any risk to Republicans at all opposing this, especially as it relates to the 2022 election,” said Ford O’Connell, a Republican strategist and former congressional candidate in Florida.

Democrats are hoping their relief package will be signed into law in the next few weeks, giving Biden a major legislative win early in his presidency. The House is expected to vote on the bill this week.

House Republican leadership is whipping against the relief package, arguing the bill isn’t targeted and includes Democratic priorities unrelated to the coronavirus. Specifically, they’re criticizing aid to state and local governments and a provision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. 

“It’s clear Democrats have no interest in approaching COVID relief in a timely and targeted fashion and are instead using the reconciliation process to jam through their liberal wish list agenda,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise’s (R-La.) whip team wrote Friday in an email to Republican lawmakers.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) office responded with a statement saying that while Americans are in need, “House Republicans don’t care.”

Democrats are using the budget reconciliation process to move the relief package, meaning no GOP votes are required so long as Democrats stick together. Republicans say the use of reconciliation is a sign Democrats aren’t interested in bipartisanship.

The White House has responded to questions about whether they think support from GOP lawmakers is unlikely by pointing to polls showing support for the relief package, warning that GOP lawmakers who vote against it are going against their constituents. 

“The vast majority of the American people like what they see in this package. And that should be an indication, or should be noted by members of Congress as they consider whether they’re going to vote for it or not,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said during a briefing last week.

The White House on Thursday touted a poll from the left-leaning firm Navigator Research that found majority support, including from a majority of Republicans, for passing a relief package that included items such as economic stimulus and vaccine funding. The White House said the poll was consistent with others from places like CBS News and Quinnipiac University.

The Quinnipiac poll found that 68 percent of adults back Biden’s proposal, while 24 percent are opposed. The bill had majority support from both Democrats and independents. Among Republicans, 47 percent said they opposed it, 37 percent said they supported it and 16 percent said they didn’t know or didn’t have an opinion.

A key provision in the bill, and one that has substantial public support, involves the $1,400 stimulus payments. In the Navigator Research poll, the majority of Americans, including half of Republicans, called the direct payments the most convincing reason to pass the bill. In the Quinnipiac poll, the stimulus checks received majority support from Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Republicans are nonetheless moving forward with opposition to the measure, unveiled Friday afternoon by the House Budget Committee, arguing it will be ineffective at spurring an economic recovery from the pandemic.

“House Democrats’ $2 trillion socialist boondoggle puts partisan politics first and fails to address the most pressing needs facing Americans, like getting kids back in the classroom and reopening small businesses,” said Torunn Sinclair, a spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm. 

Republicans say they’d be willing to support a more targeted bill, with a smaller price tag, and argued that Democrats prioritized a second impeachment of former President Trump over pandemic assistance. 

“Democrats stalled on coronavirus relief for months in 2020 when American families desperately needed it. And what was their first priority when they now control the White House and both Houses of Congress? A politically motivated impeachment — not relief for struggling families,” said Mandi Merritt, a spokesperson for the Republican National Committee. “We will be sure that voters don’t forget this.”

There’s precedent for Republicans voting against a Democratic president’s stimulus bill and then going on to have electoral success in the midterm elections. Few Republicans voted for former President Obama’s 2009 stimulus bill during the Great Recession, and the GOP flipped control of the House the following year.

But the recent runoffs in Georgia that allowed Democrats to take control of the Senate raise questions about whether Republicans will suffer politically for their opposition to Biden’s relief plan.

The two Democratic candidates in those runoffs emphasized their support for robust stimulus checks, and both Democrats and Trump have said that Senate Republican leadership’s decision to not back larger payments played a role in the election results. 

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee pointed to comments that the organization’s chairman, Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), made to The Washington Post last week, in which he predicted that Biden’s relief plan will be successful at addressing the pandemic and related economic downturn.

“I think the president’s plan will work, and the Republicans should get behind it. And they will wish they had,” Maloney told the Post.

Some Republicans say it’s not clear whether voters will have the relief bill front and center when casting ballots next year. 

Doug Heye, a former Republican National Committee spokesperson, said it’s hard to predict what issues will be on voters’ minds in the fall of 2022 when control of Congress will be up for grabs.

The relief bill is “polling well now, but it’s not clear it’s going to be a voting concern 20 months from now,” he said.

Republicans do not have to flip many seats to win back control of the House and Senate, and the first midterms after a president is inaugurated usually go poorly for the president’s party.

Rich Thau, president of Engagious, a nonpartisan firm specializing in public policy message testing, said Republicans may be looking at the historical trends and deciding that it’s in their best interest to oppose the president.

“They expect that voting and supporting the Biden agenda will be negative, and they don’t want to have their fingerprints on that agenda,” he said, while adding that such an expectation may not come to fruition.

“That has the potential to backfire,” he said.

Tags 2022 midterm elections COVID-19 relief direct payments Donald Trump Jen Psaki Joe Biden Nancy Pelosi polls Steve Scalise stimulus checks

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