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Wednesday, February 28, 2024
Feb. 28, 2024

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Jayne: GOP sticks with its own narrative

By , Columbian Opinion Page Editor

When in doubt, apparently, you drive home the narrative.

So when Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler explained why she voted against the American Rescue Plan Act, she made it a point to mention San Francisco. “The current bill tacked on a bloated wish list of non-essential items like wiping out most of San Francisco’s budget deficit with a $600 million payment,” she wrote in a statement.

No mention that Houston – the largest U.S. city in a “red” state – expects to also receive $600 million. Or that restaurants in the purple state of Arizona expect $500 million from the bill’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund. Or that Wyoming, the state that most strongly supported Donald Trump in the 2020 election, will receive $900 million – despite having two-thirds the population of San Francisco.

Instead, Herrera Beutler seized on the trite trope that deep blue San Francisco in deep blue California is receiving a bailout from hardworking Americans. In truth, we all are receiving a bailout. According to Sen. Patty Murray, the Clark County government will receive $94.69 million and Vancouver gets $32.61 million. There is something for everybody, including $390,000 for the government in the town of Yacolt and its 1,800 people.

All of which is sensible, if a little extravagant. The coronavirus pandemic has observed no borders as it has ravaged the country for the past year. More than 500,000 people have died; economies have been devastated.

Does that warrant a $1.9 trillion spending package, as provided in the American Rescue Plan Act signed last week by President Joe Biden? I don’t know. But as Republicans desperately grasp for some way to discredit a package that, according to polls, is strongly supported by a majority of Americans, the best they can do is complain that it is a Trojan horse filled with goodies desired by Democrats.

Which is a disingenuous approach. Because Republicans long ago abandoned any pretense of being the party of fiscal responsibility.

When Trump first took office and the GOP had control of the House and the Senate, they passed tax cuts that primarily benefited the wealthy. Then they increased spending. Herrera Beutler voted for both, repeating the canard that the tax cuts would pay for themselves. The result: The national deficit in 2019 was $984 billion – when the economy was strong and before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

Now, in the midst of a pandemic, that matters even more. As the Wall Street Journal explains: “Economies carrying a lot of debt generally have weaker recoveries. Businesses and consumers focus on cutting their liabilities during downturns rather than spending cash – and spending is what an economy needs to rebound.”

Deficit spending when times are good is irresponsible. Deficit spending during a pandemic-induced recession is necessary. And economists for decades will study the irresponsibility that was Trump’s fiscal policy.

All of which leaves Republicans grasping at straws. “This bill inexplicably only dedicates 9 percent of its $1.9 trillion price tag toward combatting the virus and holds two-thirds of the money for education until after 2023,” Herrera Beutler wrote. “Is Congress saying it doesn’t expect schools to be opened for two more years? That’s not what Southwest Washington families want, and this bill as a whole is not what America needs right now.”

We’ll do a little math: Out of $1.9 trillion, 9 percent is $171 billion – a pretty healthy chunk.

We’ll also do a little translation: No, Congress is not saying that schools won’t open for two more years. It is saying that the pandemic will have long-term impacts on all facets of society, including schools, and that it might make sense to prepare now for the future.

Which probably is the biggest difference between the Trump administration and having adults in charge of the federal government.

All of that leaves congressional Republicans in a difficult spot. And when that happens, you double down on the narrative.