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Senate Republican touts elements of relief bill he voted to kill

Either the relief package is "one of the worst pieces of legislation" in a generation, or it's a bill that's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people.
Image: Sen. Roger Wicker
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) talks with reporters as he heads for his party's weekly policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol May 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

After Democrats passed the Recovery Act around this time 12 years ago, Republicans were hysterical in their condemnations of the law. At least, that's what GOP lawmakers said when attacking the plan in a general sense.

When the economic stimulus package started financing key projects in their states and districts, however, 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."

None of this, of course, escaped Barack Obama's attention. In January 2010, the then-president appeared at a House Republican gathering -- it was, incidentally, one of the events of Obama's tenure that I found especially entertaining -- 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.

Before the House gave final approval to a $1.9 trillion stimulus package on Wednesday without any Republican support, Speaker Nancy Pelosi admonished Republicans for their opposition to the measure, declaring, "It's typical that they vote no and take the dough." As if to make her point, Senator Roger Wicker, Republican of Mississippi, tweeted approvingly just hours after the bill passed about the $28.6 billion included for "targeted relief" for restaurants.

Wicker celebrated the fact that, thanks to the American Rescue Plan, "independent restaurant operators have won $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief." The Mississippi Republican added, "This funding will ensure small businesses can survive the pandemic by helping to adapt their operations and keep their employees on the payroll."

The online missive neglected to mention that he voted against the bill, and if Wicker had his way, the bill that includes $28.6 billion worth of targeted relief for restaurants wouldn't have passed.

In fairness, it's worth emphasizing that Wicker has worked on this issue for months, and he co-authored an amendment to the Democrats' COVID relief package designed to benefit the restaurant industry. The GOP senator told reporters yesterday that the entire line of inquiry -- pressing him to explain why he was touting elements of a bill he voted against -- was a "stupid question."

But it's not quite that simple. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) this week condemned the American Rescue Plan "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.

Yeah, they're off to a great start.

I can appreciate the fact that senators, 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. But Wicker and his colleagues should also be mindful of the context: either this bill is "one of the worst pieces of legislation" in a generation, or it's a bill that's going to do a lot of good for a lot of people. Either they're going to make the case against the bill or they're going to sing the praises of parts of it.

When the Republican Party tries to push both lines at the same time -- a decade after doing the exact same thing with the Recovery Act -- GOP officials shouldn't be surprised when everyone rolls their eyes and ignores their rhetoric.

Ahead of yesterday's vote, Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, said on the House floor, "What we are all concerned about on our side 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."

Count on it.