NEW YORK () – With the nation’s financial system on the brink of collision, all but three Republicans voted against the massive stimulus package designed to protect millions of Americans from financial ruin.
It was early 2009, just weeks after Joe Biden was sworn in as Vice President, and the vote marked the beginning of a new era of partisan deadlock in Congress. And for beleaguered Republicans who had a disastrous election, it was their first step back to political power.
The Democrats alone voted to stabilize the economy, and two years later a Republican party united only by its unwavering opposition to Barack Obama’s presidency took a majority in the house.
Now, just weeks after Biden’s presidency, the GOP is betting that history will repeat itself.
Early Saturday morning, 210 House Republicans voted with two Democrats against a $ 1.9 trillion pandemic relief package that would send most Americans checks of $ 1,400 and hundreds of billions more to open schools to revitalize weak businesses and fund state and local governments. Senate Republicans are expected to oppose a similar move in the coming weeks, arguing that the bill is not focused enough on the pandemic. But with near unanimous democratic support, the measure could still become law.
It is far too early to predict the political consequences of the first major legislative struggle of the Biden era. However, with the nation struggling to recover from the worst health and financial crises in generations, strategists on both parties agree that it is risky for Republicans to assume that their 2009 game book will result in the same polling success this time around.
“I think the Republicans misunderstood here that it is the same thing or that they can just speak out against it and there are no consequences,” said John Anzalone, the lead poller for the Biden campaign. “It’s a different world.”
Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz said Republicans now have the burden of clearly articulating their opposition – a task made difficult by the diversion of former President Donald Trump’s high profile war against the Republican establishment.
“The legislator’s definer wins this battle,” Luntz said. “This could be the most important vote of 2021.”
There are reasons to believe that since the Republicans were last unified, politics has changed against a major stimulus package, not least against Trump’s ubiquity in the party.
At the same time, the magnitude of the economic devastation and disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic is the magnitude of the 2008 financial crisis. In its prime, the Great Recession lost around 9 million jobs compared to 22 million jobs lost by the coronavirus. A year after the pandemic began, nearly 10 million U.S. jobs are being lost, more than 20 million children are out of school, half a million Americans are dead, and around 100,000 businesses fear they will be closed forever.
According to polls, an overwhelming majority of voters – including a significant number of Republicans – support the Democrats’ pandemic relief plan. And the business community, as well as state and local leaders from both parties, are calling for help.
On the eve of the House vote, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt joined 31 other Republican mayors in a letter calling on leaders of both parties to prove the package.
“Most of the city-related bill is urgently needed,” said Holt