The central question — in both the near- and long-term — around the bill is a simple one, with lots of potential answers: Was it worth it?
The answer to that question can be looked at in a few different ways, and could well change as Biden’s term wears on. The truth is we are standing very close to the picture right now, making it tough to take a few steps back and see what it all looks like a month, a year or 10 years from now.
But Charlie Cook, a nonpartisan political analyst, believes that it’s already apparent that even though Biden got the vast majority of what he wanted in the stimulus package, the net effect on his presidency will be negative.
“Biden may have, in the early moments of his term, crippled his ability to do grand bargains.
“When the histories of the Biden presidency are written, there’s a fair chance that this will be looked upon as a serious error of judgement—one that may plague this administration for a good while.”
His argument goes like this: Biden ran and won as a candidate of unity, someone deeply (and actually) committed to restoring bipartisanship in Washington. This stimulus package was the first big opportunity for Biden to put the money where his mouth was (literally). Aside from meeting with a few GOP senators on February 1, Cook argues, Biden nor his team did any serious legwork to make the legislation more friendly for Republicans. And now, because such a massive spending bill was passed with only Democratic votes, Cook argues that the well has been poisoned in perpetuity for Biden to get Republicans to work with him.
It is absolutely true that Biden ran as a candidate who could bring Americans together following the increasingly divisive presidency of Donald Trump. Even during the darkest days of his struggles in the Democratic primary, Biden made the case that the only way the country could heal was to understand that we had a lot more in common that our politics (and our politicians) wanted us to believe.
“To overcome these challenges — to restore the soul and to secure the future of America — requires more than words. It requires that most elusive of things in a democracy: Unity. Unity.”
And there’s no question that Republicans in the House and Senate believe that Biden’s actions on the Covid-19 stimulus bill were not in keeping with those words of bipartisanship.
“We had an awful lot of input from Republican friends all through this process. A lot of the changes that we made that were basically brought into this process, came by working with my Republican and Democrat colleagues together. There were about 20 of us that worked continuously, so they had tremendous amount of input, they just couldn’t get there at the end. And President Biden encouraged them to be involved, all the way through. He spoke to them all the way up to the end.”
Interestingly, even Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, the most prominent liberal in the chamber, nodded toward the possibility of bipartisanship — but just not on the Covid-19 stimulus bill.
Cook argues that such a scenario is implausible, in that the damage has been done to Biden’s promise of bipartisanship by the way the American Rescue Plan was handled. Is he right? And, if he is, was passing a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill worth it anyway?
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