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The Capitol dome is seen from the Russell Senate Office Building on Dec. 20, 2020.Samuel Corum / Getty Images

Republicans still touting COVID relief package they roundly rejected

If Republicans see the COVID relief bill as "one of the worst pieces of legislation" in a generation, they shouldn't celebrate the parts of it they like.


As Congress prepared to pass the Democrats' COVID relief package last month, plenty of lawmakers made predictions about its efficacy and the impact it would have on the economy. But as regular readers may recall, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, offered a different kind of prediction on the chamber floor.

"What we are all concerned about on our side," Yarmuth said, referring to Democrats, "is that the Republicans are all going to vote against this, and then they're going to show up at every ribbon cutting, and at every project funded out of this bill, and they're going to pump up their chests and take credit for all of these great benefits that are coming to their citizens."

The Kentucky Democrat knew of what he spoke. A wide variety of GOP lawmakers have done exactly that.

This started in earnest with Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), who celebrated the American Rescue Plan's beneficial "targeted relief" for restaurants, while failing to mention that he voted against the bill that provided the relief. Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) took similar steps in late March, touting funds for community health centers in their respective district, overlooking the inconvenient detail that those health centers wouldn't have the money if they'd had their way.

As TPM noted yesterday, the phenomenon continues.

The proud tradition of Republican lawmakers touting provisions of the American Rescue Plan that they voted against continues this week. One entry comes courtesy of a lawmaker with a rather high-profile sibling: Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN), brother of former Vice President Mike Pence. "Help is on the way" Greg Pence tweeted Wednesday, flanking his tweet with siren emojis.

In this case, the help in question again referred to the restaurant revitalization funds included in the Democratic proposal -- which literally every congressional Republican opposed.

Greg Pence, of course, was hardly alone. Plenty of other GOP lawmakers have taken related steps with similar messages.

As we've discussed, I'm mindful of the fact that lawmakers, especially when dealing with a massive, multifaceted piece of legislation, can like some provisions while opposing the larger whole (or oppose some elements while endorsing the larger whole). That's quite common. It's also true that members of Congress are expected to let constituents know about various benefits programs.

But the context matters, too. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) recently condemned the American Rescue Plan as "one of the worst pieces of legislation I've seen pass here in the time I've been in the Senate." The GOP leader added that he and his party intended to spend the next several months telling the American people just what a terrible mistake the Democrats' COVID relief package is.

And that, in turn, should leave GOP lawmakers with a choice. Either this bill is "one of the worst pieces of legislation" in a generation, or "help is on the way" thanks to a bill that's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people. Either Republicans are going to make the case against the bill or they're going to sing the praises of the parts of it they like.

It's also tough to avoid a sense of déjà vu. As regular readers know, after Democrats passed the Recovery Act around this time 12 years ago, Republicans were hysterical in their condemnations of the law.

At least, they were until the economic stimulus package started financing key projects in their states and districts -- at which point many of these same Republicans seemed awfully eager to celebrate the Recovery Act they claimed to hate. In April 2010, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee put together a list of the House Republicans who tried to take credit for economic recovery efforts in their districts, thanks to investments from a law they vehemently opposed. The list included more than 70% of the House GOP conference.

The phenomenon was so common, Democrats came up with a label for Republicans who condemned the Recovery Act, except when it helped their constituents: "Highway Hypocrites."

This did not escape Barack Obama's attention. In January 2010, the then-president appeared at a House Republican gathering and mentioned in passing the benefits of his party's economic stimulus package. "Let's face it," the president reminded GOP lawmakers, "some of you have been at the ribbon-cuttings for some of these important projects in your communities."

Twelve years later, we're already starting to see history repeat itself.