Want to feel old? The $1,400 stimulus checks currently being discussed used to be $2,000 ones, just a little more than a month ago. Those were swiftly taken off the table after Biden’s inauguration, when Democrats hastened to clarify that the $600 checks Americans received in December were a “down payment” toward the full $2,000 amount.
But I’m becoming increasingly unsure as to whether Americans will see the remaining $1,400 as Biden seeks to negotiate this already-negotiated covid relief package in the name of reaching across the aisle.
On Monday, Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris met with Republican senators in the Oval Office to try to convince them to embrace their $1.9 trillion relief proposal, which Republicans have met with a meager $618 billion counterproposal. (That counter would also slash $1,400 payments to $1,000.)
The meeting included the usual suspects—supposed moderates like Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, who repeatedly trick Democrats into believing that they come to the table of these kinds of negotiations as pragmatists bargaining in good faith.
Though the message from the White House is that Biden didn’t cede any ground during their discussion, Republicans so far haven’t budged on their insistence on a much smaller relief package. And Biden doesn’t seem to have budged on his insistence that it’s necessary for Republicans to support Democrats’ proposal, even though they’re in the minority.
Luckily, many Democrats seem prepared to ignore Biden’s empty calls for bipartisanship, according to CNN, and—even more exciting for me, personally—questioning the idea of bipartisanship more broadly.
“My constituents don’t call me on the phone and say, ‘I need bipartisanship,’” Florida Congresswoman Lois Frankel told CNN. “They call me on the phone and they say, Where can I get a vaccine?’”
In one of the most concise criticisms of so-called bipartisanship I’ve heard recently, Frankel continued: “I think there is a total overemphasis of the word bipartisanship and the word unity should be unity with our constituents. I will say, you know, overwhelmingly, the American people are behind this by the plan.”
As Frankel points out, Biden seems to misunderstand the political stakes of the relief bill. While he appears to think of it as his first big test with Republicans—as the partisan battle that will establish whether Republicans want to work with him for the next four years or not—the true stakes are with the people who elected him, who could become more disillusioned with the Democratic Party and cost Democrats seats in the midterms. Then there are the immediate material stakes, of course, which are that people are suffering right now and need government assistance.
With regards to the covid relief package, Biden seems determined to make good on at least one of his campaign pledges: prioritizing compromise with Republicans, even when it promises to be completely fruitless.