Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was blunt in calling President Biden's big stimulus spending bill nothing but a "poorly-targeted borrowing spree." McConnell simply snatched a page from the GOP's decades long playbook when it comes to the Democrats. That's tag any Democrat who champions increased regulatory powers, higher taxes on corporations and the rich, greater public spending on health, education and job programs, and bolstering entitlement programs as a reckless, tax-and-spend enemy of private enterprise.
Not one GOP senator backed Biden's stimulus bill. The skimpy compromise stimulus that a handful of GOP senators proposed instead smacked of the GOP's long standing loathe of anything that remotely hints of alleged big government overreach. Biden has tried to pry a GOP senator or two to support his big spending measure. But he'd only get that bit of bi-partisan support by paying a price. That's water down the stimulus package. If this happens it will simply be a carbon copy of the past. A past that started with Franklin Roosevelt decades back.
The GOP (with some help from a small but pesky clique of Democratic congressional conservatives, big industrialists and conservative newspaper moguls) fought FDR tooth and nail on every one of his reform proposals from Social Security to tighter industry regulation. FDR had to tweak, compromise and water down his proposals, even the successful ones, to get passage. His more far-reaching proposal for a national health care plan never got off the ground.
No president, and that includes FDR, was a harder target of the GOP attack line on government than former President Obama. The vast storehouse of political slurs, snide innuendoes, verbal broadsides and name calling was heaped on his head. The aim was to permanently tag him as the penultimate example of a Democratic president who would make big government the all-embracing, all encompassing, arbiter of American life, at the expense of the private sector.
During his first term, this withering assault by the GOP forced Obama to bend over backward to conciliate, compromise, water down and even shelve many proposals to expand government protections and benefits to poor and working persons.
But this still brought back the howls of a big government overreach, and dire warnings that this would gut big business. The Roosevelt comparison was in order here.
Following his landslide reelection victory in 1936, he ignored the administration baiters and lurched left. He increased spending on job programs, continued to pound the "economic royalists" for subverting the economy, and attacked auto and steel giants and the superrich "Sixty Families" for doing everything to stymie the recovery.
FDR upped the ante even higher when he appointed Robert Jackson as the aggressive new director of the antitrust division of the Justice Department with a clear mandate to hit hard at the trusts. FDR railed that they were blocking his program and micromanaging the GOP rightwing attacks and takeover.
In a fireside chat, FDR talked bluntly with the American people immediately after the 1938 election and made it clear he would not reverse course and that he'd do everything he could to "create an economic upturn" by keeping the government firmly in the business of creating jobs and economic security for the millions still suffering from the Depression.
2021 is pretty much the same. The GOP's party line is that millions of Americans still loudly clamor for a return to fiscal conservatism, and a sprint backward on expanding government programs in education, housing, and highway and urban infrastructure construction and reconstruction. Polls, of course, show the exact opposite.
The majority of voters want Congress to work with Biden on solving the nation's problems. Most importantly that means taking drastic relief measures to combat COVID's cripple of the economy. One can argue all day that the GOP never saw a bloated defense spending bill that it wouldn't back. Or, that the party has been relentless in shoving tax bill after tax bill through to put more billions in the pockets of the super-rich. But it means nothing to McConnell and a GOP hell bent on derailing Biden's big spending plan.
There's too much political risk now in the GOP's mounting an all-out frontal attack on Biden and his plan for more government spending in vital areas. So, the new code word for that is simply to continue to pound on the need for deficit reduction, and fiscal restraint. This has just enough public and administration resonance to appear sensible, moderate and reasonable.
Biden and Democrats have given no sign they'll bow to the GOP's end [run] around against government. The proposals on unemployment, a direct stimulus payment boost, massive aid to the states and the cities, boosting housing and food nutrition programs, and hundreds of other programs aid the poor and jobless. Programs and spending that has always been anathema to the GOP.
FDR didn't panic in the face of the GOP's malign of him as an architect of big, unaffordable government. He stayed the course, remained true to his populist faith, turned the tables on his foes, and dared them to move the country forward not backward.
Biden appears willing to do the same. It will take that to get his big stimulus bill through and ignore the GOP's age old ploy of resurrecting the ghost of FDR and evil big government to torpedo it.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming What's Right and Wrong with the Electoral College (Amazon Kindle)
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