Republicans Are Already Undermining the Biden Administration

There’s a lot going on today. I was listening to the Senate hearings with U.S. health authorities. At the same time, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments about whether Donald Trump can ignore a number of subpoenas and keep his tax and other financial records secret. Stay tuned.

Yesterday Paul Waldman wrote a post called Republicans have already decided Trump is going to lose. Republicans seem monumentally uninterested in economic stimulus right now, Waldman says. Why would that be?

Despite the urgent need for more action, Republicans are in no hurry to pass another rescue package, leaving it to House Democrats to figure out what the economy needs. What you get from the Republican side is mostly resignation. The government has done what it can, they say, and now we just need to remove the stay-at-home orders and let the economy heal itself.

You can explain Trump’s own lack of interest in more spending by the fact that he has no idea what’s good for him and seems to think that if he puts on a show about how great the economy is doing, he can make it a reality. But other Republicans are not so deluded.

So, why not no stimulus? It should be obvious to most people that the economy isn’t going to bounce back any time this year. We’re marching into the November elections with a lot of unemployment and closed business. WTF?

This is something that Republicans, like everyone else, are coming to understand. So some of them may be looking ahead to when Trump is no longer president.

That means, perhaps above all, resuming the deficit fear-mongering that was such an effective tool to hamstring Barack Obama’s presidency. It also means adjusting their policy and spending agenda to the defensive. They aren’t bothering to talk much about new tax cuts or anything else they’d like to pass. Instead, the focus is shifting to cutbacks and constraints. “Automatic spending cuts as the economy improves” is something a Republican would want only if there’s a Democrat in the White House. It shows that that’s precisely what at least some of them are anticipating.

Meanwhile, Republicans are encouraging and amplifying the still-small movement to defy stay-at-home orders, with all the same deranged rhetoric about “tyranny” that we heard in 2009 when conservatives rose up in rage at Obama. Any work they do now will make it easier to ramp up the new version of the tea party if Joe Biden wins.

That’s not something I had considered before Waldman wrote this. I have been assuming that we were dealing with the usual corruption, stupidity, and ideological blindness. But this puts another spin on it.

On the other hand, maybe it really is just the usual corruption, stupidity, and ideological blindness. Charles Pierce:

In the annals of Not Missing A Trick, using the pandemic to squeeze out full-time workers and replace them with prison labor ranks right at the top, up there with using the pandemic to fulfill your decades-long goal of demolishing Social Security. In New Orleans, the former play is nearly complete. …

…Meanwhile, in Washington, there’s a pincer movement closing in on the most successful social-welfare program in the country’s history. The administration* has dug in on a payroll tax cut, which would drain money from the Social Security system, and now we’re hearing a proposal to let people draw down their own future Social Security payments now. Both SS and Medicare will be stressed if the oncoming pandemic-fueled recession is as bad as it is predicted to be, but it would be wrong to interpret anything coming from the administration*—or from the Republican Senate—as anything but a few more miles in the long march against these programs.

Last week Paul Krugman wrote,

Covid-19 has had a devastating effect on workers. The economy has plunged so quickly that official statistics can’t keep up, but the available data suggest that tens of millions of Americans have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, with more job losses to come and full recovery probably years away.

But Republicans adamantly oppose extending enhanced unemployment benefits — such an extension, says Senator Lindsey Graham, will take place “over our dead bodies.” (Actually, over other people’s dead bodies.)

They apparently want to return to a situation in which most unemployed workers get no benefits at all, and even those collecting unemployment insurance get only a small fraction of their previous income.

Because most working-age Americans receive health insurance through their employers, job losses will cause a huge rise in the number of uninsured. The only mitigating factor is the Affordable Care Act, a.k.a. Obamacare, which will allow many though by no means all of the newly uninsured to find alternative coverage.

But the Trump administration is still trying to have the Affordable Care Act ruled unconstitutional; “We want to terminate health care under Obamacare,” declared Donald Trump, even though the administration has never offered a serious alternative.

Given that we have a crisis unprecedented in most of our lifetimes, and given that the job losses are no one’s fault, one would think that Republicans might just temporarily put aside their zombie ideology and respond to people’s needs. “But no; they’re as determined as ever to punish the poor and unlucky,” Krugman writes.

For example, you still hear complaints that spending on food stamps and unemployment benefits increases the deficit. Now, Republicans never really cared about budget deficits; they demonstrated their hypocrisy by cheerfully passing a huge tax cut in 2017, and saying nothing as deficits surged. But it’s just absurd to complain about the cost of food stamps even as we offer corporations hundreds of billions in loans and loan guarantees.

But what’s even worse, if you ask me, is hearing Republicans complain that food stamps and unemployment benefits reduce the incentive to seek work. There was never serious evidence for this claim, but right now — at a time when workers can’t work, because doing their normal jobs would kill lots of people — I find it hard to understand how anyone can make this argument without gagging.

A lot of those people out of work and struggling are Republican voters. It’s also the case, however, that poor whites receiving benefits have a wonderful capacity to see themselves as deserving of those benefits, while those less white people getting the same benefits are not deserving. Hey, I’m from the Ozarks. I’ve seen it.

Peter Nicholas writes at The Atlantic that Trump’s people recognize that they cannot allow the November election to be a referendum on Trump’s handling of the pandemic. The plan is, then, to persuade people that Joe Biden would do even worse.

Trump is betting that he can stoke enough doubts about Biden’s leadership that his own record looks preferable by comparison. Trump wins if voters view the race as a clear choice between Biden and him, but if “the election becomes a referendum on Trump, it’s a much closer call,” one senior Trump-administration official told me. “This race has to be a contrast,” says John McLaughlin, a Trump pollster.

Well, good luck with that. One of their major talking points is that Joe Biden said something about avoiding air travel during the 2009 swine flu pandemic that was considered stupid at the time. I don’t think that’s going to do the job for them.

And might Republicans be willing to cut Trump loose as he continues to flounder? They’ve been protecting him on the theory that his re-election will help them with congressional elections. But now they are concerned that if Trump goes down he will hurt down-ticket races and give the Senate to Democrats. See Republicans grow nervous about losing the Senate amid worries over Trump’s handling of the pandemic and Nervous Republicans See Trump Sinking, and Taking Senate With Him.

Two of the most evil senators of all time, Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, both facing re-election in the fall.