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GOP's Scalise hedges on child benefit in Dems' relief package

When Scalise is reluctant to criticize a policy that might credibly look socialistic, the politics of the relief package are clearly tilted against the GOP
Steve Scalise
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise speaks at his offices at the U.S. Capitol in 2015.Andrew Harnik / AP file

It took roughly two months for the Democrats to unveil, consider, vote, and pass their ambitious COVID relief package. In theory, that should've been plenty of time for Republicans to figure out what to say about the American Rescue Plan.

But in practice, GOP officials struggled -- and continue to struggle -- to make the case against the $1.9 trillion policy. At times, it seemed Republicans were far more eager to focus their energies on distractions such as Dr. Seuss and Potato Head dolls.

The Washington Post highlighted one anecdote that helped capture the GOP's larger problem.

House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (La.), the No. 2 House GOP leader, attacked the bill to reporters as "one more example of Speaker Pelosi pushing a socialist agenda that's focused on taking away the rights of hard-working families." Then Scalise dodged a question about whether the bill's expansion of the child tax credit, which will send monthly $300 checks to many families, constituted socialism.

Asked specifically whether the new child benefit constituted "the definition of socialism," the Louisiana Republican hedged, suggesting only that measures such as these "should have been discussed separately" from the COVID relief package.

To be sure, it's hardly unusual for congressional leaders to dodge uncomfortable questions at Capitol Hill press conferences, but the exchange with Scalise was emblematic of his party's larger problem.

For years, Republicans have issued hysterical warnings to Americans, urging the public to be terrified of Democrats and their radical "socialist" ideas. It was against this backdrop that Democrats effectively declared this year, "We're going to start sending monthly checks to families with children."

Naturally, GOP leaders like Scalise seized on this as proof of the creeping socialist threat, right? Wrong. The Louisiana congressman realizes that the expanded child benefit is widely popular, even with many Republican voters, so there's little upside to attacking the policy.

In other words, confronted with a benefit that might actually look vaguely socialistic, Scalise hedged, unwilling to denounce a benefit people like and reluctant to associate a popular policy with an ideology he rejects.

Is it any wonder polls show broad support for the Democrats' American Rescue Plan? Its leading opponents have been reduced to effectively arguing, "We would've preferred if the popular elements in the relief package had been considered separately."

When Steve Scalise is reluctant to criticize a Democratic policy that might credibly look socialistic, you know the politics of the relief package are tilted against Republicans.