The House is set to vote on Democrats’ $1.9 trillion Covid rescue plan on Friday, sending the package to the Senate, where it is expected to pass — likely with some revisions, and with zero Republican support — before long. Democrats are planning to have the legislation through Congress and ready for President Joe Biden’s signature ahead of a March 14 deadline, when enhanced unemployment benefits for millions of Americans are currently scheduled to expire.
So the fight over this round of pandemic relief will be over within weeks — only it is certain to live on for years to come.
As The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake notes, Republicans appear to be taking a large political risk by opposing a package that polling finds is broadly popular with the American public, including among GOP voters. “That said,” Blake says, “the passage of the bill, in many ways, is just the beginning of the political (and electoral) fight.”
As the 2009 stimulus package and the 2017 tax cuts demonstrated in recent years, public opinion on massive legislation can change over time — “both demonstrate that a big bill’s polling numbers upon passage can be oversold,” Blake writes. “In the case of stimulus, people generally like throwing money at a major problem they recognize, but then the task is making sure that it’s well-spent and that people understand that. … The real test will be how the [Biden relief] bill is perceived to have worked if it passes.”
In pushing for the Covid package, the Biden administration has been relying on lessons learned from the 2009 stimulus fight and the battle over Obamacare. That extends to selling the plan to the public, with the White House reportedly focused on building support among state and local officials and having members of the administration make the case for the package in appearances on more than 70 local news stations. “Biden and his lieutenants are pitching the giant bill to mayors, governors, state treasurers and tribal leaders, along with workers and the business community,” Bloomberg’s Nancy Cook and Justin Sink report. “The administration is focusing on roughly 13 key states -- including Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Arizona and Georgia.”
That outreach is meant to ensure that the relief plan can get votes it needs in a closely divided Congress and lay the groundwork for Biden’s next big multi-trillion-dollar economic package, focused on infrastructure and climate change. But election politics also play a role: “The approaching battle over Biden’s second economic program is just one reason the public-relations effort isn’t over,” Cook and Sink write. “With mid-term congressional elections next year, the White House will need to keep making the case it did the right thing with its giant $1.9 trillion emergency-spending bill, and build credit for the recovery.”
John Podesta, a former chief of staff to President Clinton and former adviser to President Obama, reinforced that public relations purpose. “I don’t think the fact that you have got polling indicating American people are supportive of the relief is, in essence, the end of the story,” he told Bloomberg News. “They will really have to sell the fact they are good stewards of the economy, and they are coming behind this with another big package of investment.”
And they’ll likely have to keep selling it at least until November 2022.