Doing Some Good

There’s Malvolio in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, or What You Will – along with Sir Toby Belch and Sir Andrew Aguecheek – but Malvolio is the key character. The plot revolves and resolves around him. He’s the sourpuss. Nothing is ever right, or ever will be right. There’s Molière’s Misanthrope – the same sort of fellow. And then there’s the normally reasonable progressive pundit Kevin Drum on the eve of Joe Biden pulling it off. Drum is the misanthrope. Don’t get all excited:

Passage of the American Rescue Plan will be a great win for President Biden and for progressives in general. However, everyone realizes that this is it, right? There might be another reconciliation bill later in the year, but aside from that Republicans will not allow anything more to pass and Democrats will not be able to eliminate the filibuster.

It doesn’t matter how important something is or how strongly we fight for it. It just doesn’t matter. So please, no stories about the “difficult path ahead” or any of that nonsense. Nothing more will pass. Nothing. And we all know why.

And forget what Trump used to do, which really was next to nothing:

There’s a limited amount Biden can do with executive orders and things like tariffs that are under the control of the executive. But that’s mostly small potatoes.

And that’s that. But the Shakespeare play and the Molière play are both comedies. Malvolio and the Misanthrope are fools and, in the end, learn that the world isn’t all that bad. And, yes, Joe Biden did pull it off:

Congress approved a sweeping $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package on Wednesday, authorizing a flurry of new federal spending and a temporary yet dramatic increase in anti-poverty programs to help millions of families still struggling amid the pandemic.

The 220-to-211 vote in the House of Representatives almost entirely along party lines sends to President Biden’s desk one of the largest economic rescue packages in U.S. history, which Democrats had promised to pass as one of their first acts of governance after securing narrow but potent majorities in Washington during the 2020 presidential election.

They promised. They kept their promise. And they went big:

The bill, the American Rescue Plan, authorizes another round of stimulus-payments up to $1,400 for most Americans; extends additional, enhanced unemployment aid to millions still out of work; and makes major changes to the tax code to benefit families with children. It couples the new pandemic relief with what Democrats have come to describe as one of the most robust legislative responses to poverty in a generation, seeking to assist low-income families who struggled financially long before the coronavirus took root.

Lawmakers also set aside tens of billions of dollars to fund coronavirus testing, contact tracing and vaccine deployment, as they aim to deliver on Biden’s recent promise to produce enough inoculations for “every adult in America” by the end of May. The stimulus bill approves additional money to help schools reopen, allow restaurants and businesses to stay afloat, and assist state and local governments trying to meet their financial needs.

So much has been broken. So, fix it all, or as much as can be fixed at this moment with these particular politicians. Hell, do some good. It’s about time:

“The Biden American Rescue Plan is about the children, their health, their education, [and] the economic security of their families,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) just before lawmakers gave the bill a final green light, prompting cheers among Democrats in the chamber. “This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have an opportunity to support.”

Cue the sputtering outrage:

“This isn’t a rescue bill; it isn’t a relief bill; it is a laundry list of left-wing priorities that predate the pandemic and do not meet the needs of American families,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said earlier in the debate.

No one asked Kevin McCarthy how this met no family needs. This was not the time to embarrass him. He’s supposed to sputter, and it was too late to matter:

The bill now heads to Biden, who is expected to sign it Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said. The signing comes a day after the president is set to deliver his first prime-time television address on the country’s response to the pandemic. Wall Street appeared to acknowledge the news, as the Dow Jones industrial average continued to climb and was about 529 points by the early afternoon.

“For weeks now, an overwhelming percentage of Americans – Democrats, Independents, and Republicans – have made it clear they support the American Rescue Plan. Today, with final passage in the House of Representatives, their voice has been heard,” Biden said in a statement.

“This legislation is about giving the backbone of this nation – the essential workers, the working people who built this country, the people who keep this country going – a fighting chance,” he added.

No, no, no – the working people who built this country are doing just fine:

Republicans sought to portray the bill as wasteful and unnecessary. They cited the fact that sums still remain from past congressional packages, and party leaders faulted Democrats for focusing relief on aid programs they say are not immediately related to the pandemic.

“Democrats made a choice: a choice to put their own partisan political ambitions ahead of the needs of the working class, ahead of the needs of the American people,” said Rep. Jason T. Smith (Mo.), the top Republican on the House’s budget panel, ahead of the vote. “When our Democratic colleagues speak of unity, they mean keeping their party together, not keeping this country together.”

But Democrats countered that the absence of GOP support – after lawmakers crossed the aisle to approve prior stimulus packages – reflected the party’s own political calculations.

That’s clear enough. You guys didn’t want to talk about your view of the needs of the working class, about the needs of the American people, this time around. You guys didn’t want to talk about anything. You left us on our own. What did you expect?

The Washington Post’s Erica Werner tries to straighten this out:

At first, Democrats described their $1.9 trillion stimulus as a response to a once-in-a-century economic and health emergency. But then the language began to shift to something much different: an anti-poverty measure with few precedents in U.S. history.

“I don’t know that I will ever cast a more important vote,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said Wednesday, as the chamber prepared to send the legislation to President Biden’s desk. “We are not creating a narrative talking about changing lives – we are going to do it with this legislation.”

Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) called the bill ″an ideological revolution on behalf of justice.”

Other Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), described the legislation as potentially more consequential even than the Affordable Care Act in its impact on poverty in America.

Leave them on their own and that’s what you get, although much of this is overstatement:

The Democrats’ comments seemed to confirm – even endorse – GOP complaints that the sprawling bill does more to address long-held liberal priorities than attack the twin economic and health-care crises brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which by some measures are already waning. And the new messaging gave Republicans more political cover to oppose Biden’s package, which failed to pick up a single GOP vote, despite Biden’s promises to reach across the political aisle during the campaign.

Yet the new Democratic talking points raised fresh questions about the legislation, because it is largely composed of one-time or short-term provisions that do not amount to long-term safety net changes – unless Democrats manage to make some of the changes permanent in future legislation.

So they’re going to change the world – temporarily:

The Biden relief bill would substantially lower poverty, according to multiple studies – but only for this year because most of its major provisions are set to expire in 2021. Biden and senior Democrats have said they would push to make an expanded child benefit permanent – a measure on its own expected to come close to halving child poverty – but doing so could prove difficult with a narrowly divided U.S. Senate. Without further action, child poverty would double in 2022.

The Republicans will bring back and enhance child poverty if they can, and they probably can, in the name of fiscal Responsibility:

Republicans seized on the Democrats’ new boasts about their legislation, with Rep. Tom Rice (R-S.C.) calling it a “selfish attempt to saddle our next generation with debt,” filled with “progressive payouts that we the people did not order.”

What people does he speak of? The “people” voted for what they wanted. His people lost the White House and the Senate and never had the House. And perhaps the Democrats can’t be stopped now:

Even as Republicans united against the legislation and warned against overreach that would send Democrats back into the minority in the midterm elections, Democrats predicted their success on passing Biden’s relief bill would pave the way for more victories to come.

The legislation is expected to drive down the nation’s poverty rate from 12.3 percent to 8.3 percent, which means it will pull about 12 million people out of poverty, according to research led by Columbia University’s Zachary J. Parolin.

This works. People will see that. What can the Republicans say to that? And the Democrats have learned their lesson long ago:

Bipartisan negotiations on the Affordable Care Act dragged on for months as the bill grew increasingly unpopular, before Democrats ended up passing it with no GOP support. Ten years ago, in passing rescue legislation to get out of the financial crisis, Democrats and Biden as vice president negotiated with Republicans and ended up with a smaller bill than they wanted, which Democrats believe resulted in a slower recovery than they might have achieved by spending more money when they had the chance.

This time, Democrats were unapologetic about their goals, believing the public was on their side as they pushed massive relief legislation into law. They seized the opportunity to load up the bill with liberal policies they supported long before the advent of the coronavirus crisis – such as a $15 minimum-wage increase that was ultimately struck from the bill. Congressional Republicans were left to fume that Democrats abandoned Biden’s campaign promises of bipartisanship and unity in favor of a go-it-alone strategy the GOP is powerless to stop.

“When you look at the priorities of Speaker Pelosi, it’s to spend as much money as quickly as possible on her socialist agenda, and to turn her backs on those of us who want to work together to confront this virus and to safely reopen our economy and our schools,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) said.

But that was nonsense. That was a trap. The Democrats had far more of the public on their side this time:

Democrats argued that even though the legislation lacks GOP support in Congress, it is nonetheless bipartisan because some Republican mayors and other officeholders support it, as well as significant numbers of GOP voters, according to polling. A Pew Research survey released Tuesday found that 70 percent of American adults overall support the legislation. Among Republicans the support is softer, with 41 percent of Republicans and GOP-leaning independents favoring the legislation. Within that, however, 63 percent of lower-income Republicans and Republican-leaning independents support the legislation, Pew found.

And they had their larger agenda too:

Democrats argue that they are acting to restore faith in government’s ability to help the public, even if their goals of long-term social change do not ultimately materialize. And after long years of frustration as House Democrats failed to transform their ideas into law, they say they have arrived at a moment of success voters will ultimately reward.

“The Affordable Care Act was an extraordinary piece of legislation. Took a long time for the American people to understand how much value it was to them and their families, but they’ve done that now,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.). “They certainly didn’t take the time on this bill, however, where we have over 70 percent of the American people think this bill ought to be passed.”

Maybe government works after all. But maybe that’s not true for Republicans. They had their issues:

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) forced a vote on a motion to adjourn Wednesday morning only minutes after the House had begun the session, delaying the final vote on the COVID-19 relief package.

The motion failed, with over 40 Republicans voting against adjourning.

She had an idea. Let’s all go home now! No bill on anything can pass if we all go home! That was true, and embarrassing:

Greene has favored forcing a vote to adjourn in recent weeks, a time-consuming process that grinds the chamber to a halt. It also takes members from their committee work, though Greene was stripped from both of her committee positions in February.

A ruffled Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) told reporters Wednesday that he’d propose a rule that only members of committees can force a motion to adjourn. “I’m dead serious,” he said.

Even Greene’s fellow House Republicans have started complaining – “it’s a pain in the ass,” Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) told CNN – and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) reportedly warned the Republican conference recently that such wrench-throwing must have some strategy behind it.

Greene’s delay tactics Wednesday mirror those used by her GOP Senate peers, who forced a reading of the entire 628-page COVID-19 relief package and many amendment-votes to slow the process.

So she was not alone. That was Ron Johnson. He had no strategy behind that either, and then there was that Washington Post interview:

One day after Democrats made an unprecedented move to strip Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committee assignments, the Georgia Republican countered that she’d now have plenty of time to obstruct her opponents’ “far-leftist” proposals and push her GOP colleagues harder to the right.

Greene, an ardent supporter of former president Donald Trump, has kept her promise.

She is simply continuing Trump’s tear-it-all-down work:

In an interview, a defiant Greene stressed that her colleagues of both parties should get used to her trying to delay consideration of Democratic priorities.

“These are tactics I will definitely use, and I’ll have more tactics to use. You see the difference in me is I’m not one of those that gets in line and says ‘Yes sir’ and does as I’m told,” she told The Washington Post on Tuesday.

She will tear it all down, more effectively than that other guy:

Sen. Ron Johnson (Wis.) demanded a reading on the floor of the roughly 630-page American Relief Plan, which delayed consideration of the coronavirus relief bill for 11 hours. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) requested a motion to adjourn late Friday evening to delay the final vote on the $1.9 trillion bill. The motion was defeated.

But Greene, who entered Congress two months ago, has obstructed more often and attracted sharper criticism.

She’s a master at this:

Greene is undeterred by the criticism and has not been shy about criticizing colleagues. She called out the Republicans who opposed her Wednesday, releasing a statement on Twitter that said, “These Republican votes are the 40 white flags of the Surrender Caucus.”

“Our Republican voters want to see Republican members in the House standing up and fighting back!

And they don’t want no stinking relief money!

So that’s one side. But there’s Biden and the majority of the public on the other side. Something has changed. E. J. Dionne, the professor at Georgetown and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution last year wrote Code Red: How Progressives and Moderates Can Unite to Save Our Country – a book not widely read – but one year later what he said should happen seems to be happening. It seems that Ronald Reagan is finally dead:

“Our economic package is a closely knit, carefully constructed plan to restore America’s economic strength and put our nation back on the road to prosperity,” the president declared in a speech from the Oval Office. “Each part of this package is vital.”

While President Biden could have said that about the $1.9 trillion economic rescue package the House sent to his desk on Wednesday, the words were President Ronald Reagan’s in support of his 25 percent across-the-board tax cut in July 1981.

But this is Biden’s America now:

Forty years ago, the victory of Reagan’s tax cut plan inaugurated a new ideological era, its core conviction summarized by a line in Reagan’s inaugural address that conservatives of a certain age can recite in their sleep: “In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.”

Passage of the Biden plan reflects the triumph of precisely the opposite view: that only active and competent government can get us out of the mess we’re in now. The willingness of Democrats to speed through a program of this size reflects the final shrugging off of Reagan-era constraints that made even liberal politicians gun-shy about government activism.

Now some things can be said aloud. Reagan got it wrong:

The shift away from top-down supply-side economics could not be more dramatic. The Reagan theory, reduced to its essence, was: Help the rich, and their investments will produce jobs and prosperity for everyone else. The Biden theory is bottom-up: Help middle-class and low-income Americans, and their purchasing power will drive an unprecedented era of growth.

The Tax Policy Center’s comparison of President Donald Trump’s corporate tax cuts and Biden’s rescue bill tells the tale of two theories. The benefits of Trump’s tax cut went overwhelmingly to the top 20 percent. Assistance from the Biden rescue reaches well into the middle class, but its biggest benefits go to the bottom 40 percent of the income structure.

This poses a danger to Republicans still clinging to the Reagan faith because the GOP’s less affluent supporters understand what’s going on.

The jig is up. They’ve been caught with no defense. And now Biden has to get to work:

Politics is a “by their fruits shall ye know them” business. Reaganism solidified its hold because of the economic boom that began late in 1982. Conservatives were unrelenting in ascribing the good times to Reagan’s policies.

Biden’s team and Democratic strategists know they must sell the rescue plan hard and make sure voters know all that the administration is doing to end the pandemic and get the economy moving. “The most important thing is to go out there and tell people you did a lot so that when the economy starts to recover, they link the recovery to what you did,” said Guy Molyneux, a Democratic pollster.

This is exactly the argument Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) was trying to preempt when he told reporters, “We’re about to have a boom. And if we do have a boom, it will have absolutely nothing to do with this $1.9 trillion.”

The administration knows that they have to prove otherwise, but that can’t be that hard:

There is nothing magical about the renewed popularity of government action. The pandemic flattened the private sector economy and demanded a mobilization of resources only government could command. The disparate health and economic impacts of COVID-19 turned inequality from an abstract question into a life-or-death proposition.

Just as the stagflation crisis at the end of the 1970s gave birth to Reaganism, the current crisis might lead to a new disposition through which pragmatic forms of government activism add up to a quiet political revolution.

It could happen. Kevin Drum may be right. The Senate filibuster stays. Biden and the Democrats won’t get one more thing done in the next four years. But they did get this one big thing done. The quiet political revolution has begun. That’s something. Misanthropes do end up being wrong.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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