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President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus package into law on Thursday, cementing the first major legislative victory of his presidency.
Among the many measures included in the sweeping bill are a round of $1,400 stimulus checks, enhanced unemployment benefits, money for schools and childcare centers, housing assistance and support for vaccination programs nationwide. It also expands existing tax credits that would put more money into the pockets of workers and people with children.
No Republicans in either chamber of Congress voted for the bill, leaving Democrats zero margin for error in the 50-50 Senate. To gain the support of moderate senators, enhanced unemployment benefits were reduced and income thresholds for who will receive stimulus checks were lowered slightly. A provision to raise the federal minimum wage was also abandoned after a group of Senate Democrats declined to back a rule change that would have allowed it to pass with a simple majority vote and avoid a GOP filibuster.
Why there’s debate
The stimulus bill’s most immediate impact will be measured by how effectively it helps the country recover from the coronavirus pandemic. But political analysts also expect it to be a major factor in upcoming elections.
Many see the bill as a win for Democrats as they look to hold onto their congressional majorities in the 2022 midterms and retain the presidency in 2024. They argue that the legislation positions Democrats to take credit for ending the pandemic and rescuing the economy as vaccines gradually bring the coronavirus under control in the coming months. Some experts say providing direct payments like stimulus checks and child benefits is a potent way of showing working-class Americans how Democratic leadership has affected their lives. Others believe the GOP may also suffer after opposing a bill that the vast majority of the public supports.
Critics on the right say the bill’s enormous price tag, which many argue is inflated by items on the progressive wish list, will turn off moderate voters who worry about Democrats ramming through a left-wing agenda. Republican opposition to the bill may even become an asset if the country struggles to escape the pandemic or the surge in spending results in runaway inflation, others say. Some on the left fear that concessions made to satisfy moderate Democrats could temper support for the party among progressive voters.
Stimulus checks may start appearing in Americans’ bank accounts as soon as this weekend, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said. Biden and Vice President Harris will be traveling outside Washington to tout the benefits of the stimulus bill to voters in the coming weeks, according to White House press secretary Jen Psaki.
Democrats showed voters they’re the only party willing to help them in a crisis
“At a time when millions of Americans needed their help, [Republicans] responded with one word: No. My hope is that come the 2022 election, voters will respond with that same word when Republicans running for Congress ask for their vote.” — Dean Obeidallah, MSNBC
Democrats went too far with progressive provisions in the bill
“Biden is racing to show progressives in his party that he deserved their vote, and that his party will again merit their support in 2022. Maybe some payback was needed, but Biden has overdone it. … America remains a centrist country, and Biden’s progressive diktats will not prove popular.” — Liz Peek, Fox News
Republicans made a mistake by opposing such a popular bill
“It’s hard for me to overstate what an epic flub we are witnessing from today’s GOP.” — Will Bunch, Philadelphia Inquirer
Democrats smartly included direct, immediate benefits to voters
“The direct aid will be a sharp contrast to what happened under Obama’s stimulus, when most Americans didn’t even realize they were getting a tax cut. It’s a sharp departure as well from the impact of Obamacare, where the benefits did not begin until long after the bill was passed, and after the midterm elections as well.” — Jeff Greenfield, Politico
Biden will regret abandoning his promise of bipartisanship
“President Joe Biden is not governing as the moderate he advertised during the Democratic primaries and seeking accommodation with Republicans to address grievances on both sides.” — Peter Morci, MarketWatch
GOP criticisms of the bill will fall flat
“Republicans’ argument is that we are spending too much. The ordinary American who might return to work in the months to come or get the benefits of the bill will likely say ‘Who cares?’ And the country will never know whether recovery would have been possible with a $1 trillion bill instead of a $1.9 trillion bill. Republicans’ opposition is politically obtuse, to put it mildly.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Massive spending could sink Democrats if the economy becomes overheated
“The $1.9 trillion stimulus bill represents 1.9 trillion choices taken away — it represents a choice to put ourselves in a riskier position than we have to be in rather than to begin reducing our risk in a responsible and orderly way. That Democrats are insisting on this poor choice in order to create a boom that they hope will benefit them in the midterm elections and in 2024 is something to which voters ought to give some serious consideration.” — Kevin D. Williamson, National Review
The stimulus gave a fractured Republican Party something to unify against
“After weeks of feuding among themselves, Republicans found something they agree on: unanimous opposition to the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill. The political value of that unity will be at the forefront of the 2022 congressional elections.” — David Jackson, USA Today
Democrats can’t assume that voters will give them credit for the stimulus
“Many Americans do not pay close attention to politics, and don't necessarily tie the decisions made in Washington to the realities of their day-to-day lives. Democrats need to connect those dots for them, loudly and repeatedly, so that voters can understand what's at stake in elections and what both parties truly stand for.” — Jill Filipovic, CNN
Watered-down elements of the stimulus will be disappointing to progressives
“Is it too soon to be worrying about the midterms? Not for progressives, some of whom believe President Joe Biden and Democratic leadership are already setting themselves up for defeat in 2022 by making compromises on the latest COVID relief package.” — Marie Solis, Fortune
The economy will determine who wins upcoming elections, not the specifics of one bill
“What will probably matter most in 2022 isn’t whether the relief bill is popular, but whether the big-picture outcomes — the economy and the pandemic — wind up making the electorate happy with the incumbent president and his party. A strong economy will make Biden popular. If unemployment is high and growth is slow, it won’t help him much that the current bill polls well now.” — Jonathan Bernstein, Bloomberg
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