People act in their self-interest. If someone wants to give me money without adverse consequences, then it will be in my self-interest to take it unless someone can explain why I shouldn’t.
Unfortunately, Republicans, who couldn’t articulate a party platform in 2020, oversee the opposition to President Joe Biden’s expansive economic proposals. So, all fiscal conservatives might be sunk, Republican or Democrat. Here’s why.
Last week, Biden announced the $1.8 trillion American Families Plan which includes payments to parents of $300 per child under 6 and $250 per month for older children. That’s not all. Also included is universal preschool and no-tuition community college. Although the child payments expire at the end of 2025, it appears four decades of containing government might be over and the era of expanding it might be back. Only thing standing in the way appears to be tired Republican arguments that didn’t work in the past.
Our previous dramatic shift in public policy was when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was building the New Deal between 1933 and 1939. That included Social Security, among other programs, producing a political realignment making Democrats the majority and holder of the White House for seven out of the next nine presidential terms.
In his “rendezvous with destiny” speech in 1936, Roosevelt defended his New Deal actions as pragmatic responses to real, glaring needs of a changing society. He believed that the rich who criticized him were dangerously missing the point when they cloaked their greed in an affinity for capitalism. He thought a rigid adherence to capitalistic theory would be an invitation for extremists and that pragmatic responses were required to fulfill government’s obligation to assist its people.
Same is true today. Pragmatic responses, not theoretical chants, are needed.
Nonetheless, Republicans continually object to Biden’s plan based on cost, so-called socialism and the deficit, even though the proposed tax levels are not as high as they were prior to the Trump administration’s 2017 tax cuts.
Yet, Republicans weren’t always “aginners.”
The original House vote on the Social Security Act (April 19, 1935) was 81 Republicans in favor (plus 284 Democrats and 7 others) to 15 Republicans (plus 15 Democrats and 3 others) against. The Senate vote (June 19, 1935) was similar, with 16 Republicans (plus 60 Democrats and 1 other) voting in favor and 5 Republicans (and 1 Democrat) opposed.
In the case of Medicare, the House adopted the conference committee report on July 27, 1965, with 70 Republicans supporting it and the Senate adopted the final version of the bill with Republicans supplying 13 of the 70 yes votes.
However, without my passing judgment on the merits of the current proposal, Republicans need to put forth better oppositional arguments than their reflexive stance that the proposal costs too much, it’s socialistic or we’ll be adding to the federal deficit.
Those didn’t work with Social Security or Medicare, and I don’t anticipate they will work now. The original critics of the Social Security Act, such as the American Bar Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, called Social Security an attempt to “Sovietize the country” and a compulsory socialistic tax.
Yet, even as many congressional Republicans voted for Social Security, their 1936 candidate for president, Alf Landon, campaigned against it, calling it the largest tax bill in history. He lost.
Some believed that the cost of Social Security would be passed along to consumers and employees. Could have been, but the economy’s growth minimized it.
Some argued that it would weaken the U.S. economy, especially given the then-recent Great Depression and still high unemployment. Worse yet, many thought it would be a barrier to worker reentry into the workforce. It wasn’t.
Many thought the act was unconstitutional. Some still do, but it hasn’t been ruled as such by the Supreme Court.
None of those arguments prevailed. Why do Republicans think they will now? Only explaining adverse consequences to people will turn voters against the proposed spending. Otherwise, it’s free money.
Republicans must do better.