Okay, it might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that Democrats are trying to memory hole the $1.9 trillion economic package they passed in March, but given how it was sold at the time, it’s pretty shocking we hear so little about it.
One of the narratives that has been pushed in the aftermath of Terry McAuliffe’s defeat is that he lost because Democrats failed to pass the legislation they had been haggling over for months and so he had nothing to sell to voters. But the $1.9 trillion “COVID-relief” bill represented a sweeping piece of legislation with lots of economic aid as well as an expansion of social welfare programs.
At the time, Charlie summarized how it was being described by the media and in liberal opinion pieces:
The day after passage, the New York Times’ news team described the package as “a rapid advance in progressive priorities but also a realignment of economic, political and social forces” and acknowledged that it had happened because “an energized progressive vanguard pulled the Democrats leftward, not least Mr. Biden, who had campaigned as a moderating force.” Meanwhile, on the paper’s opinion pages, Nick Kristof argued that the bill represented “a revolution in American policy” — indeed, that it was nothing less than the first step in a resetting of the political baseline — while Jamelle Bouie proposed that it “compares favorably with the signature legislation of Roosevelt’s first 100 days, in that its $1.9 trillion price tag dwarfs the mere tens of billions (in inflation-adjusted dollars) spent by Congress during the earliest period of the New Deal.” At New York magazine, Eric Levitz echoed these characterizations, portraying the bill as “the largest anti-poverty program in a generation,” and noting that it was of a piece with a president who had “packed his Cabinet with a cornucopia of progressive wonks” and “full-employment fanatics” who “occupy damn-near every economic post in the White House.”
Now, I get, to some extent, why this measure has been downplayed in recent months. Liberals believed it was progress, but that it only represented a small portion of their ambitions. Playing up the expansiveness of Biden’s initial legislation could cut against the case for additional sweeping bills. And when they are trying to get holdout Democrats to get over their nervousness about approving trillions more in spending, I can see why it can help to pretend that the $1.9 trillion didn’t happen.
On the other hand, by pivoting to $4.1 trillion in new spending proposals within weeks of passing the “COVID-relief” bill, I wonder if Biden stepped a bit on his own headlines. Instead of taking the time to celebrate a “win” and campaigning on the various government benefits coming out in the initial piece of legislation, for the past six months, the focus has shifted to what Biden isn’t getting accomplished. The narrative may be so deeply locked in by now that it won’t even matter if Democrats scurry to pass something Biden can tout as a victory.
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