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'No shame': As GOP touts relief bill it opposed, Biden mocks party

Biden had a little fun mocking Republicans for touting the relief bill they voted against, but there's a substantive point that's worth appreciating.

President Joe Biden was in Cleveland yesterday to tout his economic agenda, and in the process, the Democrat took a victory lap of sorts when describing the nation's direction.

"COVID cases are down, COVID deaths are down, unemployment filings are down, hunger is down, vaccinations are up, jobs are up, growth is up, people gaining health coverage is up, small business confidence is up," Biden said. "Put it simply: America is coming back. America is on the move. And that wasn't an accident. It wasn't luck."

It was hard to blame the president for expressing optimism and taking some pride in the U.S. recovery. The day-to-day political dramas can be exasperating, but stepping back, Biden's observation is sound: thanks in part to the Democrats' American Rescue Plan, every relevant economic metric and public-health indicator is finally moving in the right direction.

But that wasn't the only notable part of the president's remarks in Ohio:

"Even my Republican friends in Congress, not a single one of them voted for the Rescue Plan. I'm not going to embarrass any one of them, but I have here a list of how, back in their districts, they're bragging about the Rescue Plan.... I mean, some people have no shame. But I'm happy. I'm happy they know that it's benefited their constituents. That's okay with me. But if you're going to try to take credit for what you've done, don't get in the way of what we still need to do."

When Biden referenced the list of GOP officials boasting about relief funds they opposed, he literally held up a written list, though he did not read it aloud. NBC News reported, "It had 13 names on it that were visible, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.), Rep. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.), and Rep. Greg Pence (R-Ind.), brother of former Vice President Mike Pence."

The president seemed to enjoy mocking his partisan rivals -- the comments generated some laughter and applause from the audience -- but there was an underlying substantive point to this.

As we discussed several weeks ago, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) started celebrating the American Rescue Plan's beneficial "targeted relief" before the COVID relief bill was even signed into law. The Mississippi Republican neglected to mention the fact that he voted against the bill that provided the relief.

Wicker soon had plenty of company. Reps. Madison Cawthorn (R-N.C.) and Alex Mooney (R-W.Va.) took similar steps in March, touting funds for community health centers in their respective districts, overlooking the inconvenient detail that those health centers wouldn't have received the money if they'd had their way.

Anecdotes like these -- which congressional Democrats publicly predicted before the bill's passage -- keep coming up. The Associated Press ran this report in early May alongside a perfect headline: "Republicans promote pandemic relief they voted against."

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., said it pained her to vote against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. But in the weeks that followed, the first-term Republican issued a news release celebrating more than $3.7 million from the package that went to community health centers in her district as one of her "achievements." She said she prided herself on "bringing federal funding to the district and back into the pockets of taxpayers."

For Biden and his party, the value is not just in exposing Republican hypocrisy, and taking jabs at those who "voted no and took the dough," but also in reminding the public that the Democratic plan has been so effective that GOP opponents are pretending they supported it.

Indeed, as policymakers move forward with the debate over the White House infrastructure plan, the subtext is important: Republicans are complaining about the proposal now, but with recent history in mind, the Democratic blueprint is likely to be so effective that GOP lawmakers who vote "no" will soon try to take credit for the investments.