Republicans blasted President Biden on Wednesday for pushing overly generous entitlement programs within his multitrillion-dollar partisan spending bill, arguing the initiatives will only slow America’s post-coronavirus economic recovery.
Many see the issue as a stark line between the two parties and one that could potentially help Republicans retake Congress by a landslide next year.
“Joe Biden ran for president arguably as a [Sens.] Kyrsten Sinema, Joe Manchin Democrat and he’s acting like a Bernie bro,” said former House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican. “And this is not what the country thought it was getting, this is not what those suburban voters say … they voted for.”
Republicans are eager to highlight the policies that Mr. Biden is attempting to ram through a narrowly controlled Congress. Many of those policies are included within the White House’s $3.5 trillion expansion of the social safety net.
Dubbed “human infrastructure,” the massive spending bill is poised to significantly expand the welfare state. The entitlement programs include things such as paid family leave, child care subsidies and even direct cash payments. The programs Mr. Biden is championing have been labeled as the most progressive since the New Deal era.
“Our political task is not just to improve life for working families in terms of decent income, health care, education, etc.,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, a socialist from Vermont. “It is to change the political paradigm so that people demand their full rights as human beings and not just scraps from the table.”
Republicans see much to worry about within the package. Mr. Biden has proposed to make the child tax credit permanent, which gives parents with children under the age of 6 approximately $3,600 in direct payments annually.
Mr. Biden initially expanded the credit earlier this year as a temporary measure to help deal with the fallout of the coronavirus. Most Democrats see the program as popular and something they can run on in 2022 and beyond, despite fiscal watchdogs estimating it would cost upward of $1.6 trillion over the next decade.
Complicating matters is that earlier Mr. Biden removed work requirements for individuals receiving the credit. At the time, the decision was pitched as an effort to ensure parents displaced by COVID-19 were still eligible.
Now, Mr. Biden and far-left Democrats are fighting to prevent moderates within his own party, including Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, from reimposing the work mandates.
“Liberals want to send cash to poor families indefinitely and walk away,” said Rep. Jackie Walorski, Indiana Republican. “A short-sighted attempt to ‘buy people out of poverty’ with no consideration of the long-term impacts.”
Democrats have similarly sought to remove work requirements from other entitlement programs they are championing, including child-care subsidies and expanded health care.
Republicans say the situation is only likely to exacerbate the worker shortages the American economy has faced in recent months. Last week, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that there are 10.4 million open jobs across the country.
“It appears [Democrats] are more interested in paying people more and giving people better health care benefits to stay home than to reconnect to their jobs,” said Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, the top Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee. “As a result, America’s economic and jobs recovery has slowed down and is in crisis.”
Republicans are not deceiving themselves in believing that they can unilaterally pressure the White House to recommit to imposing work requirements.
Many admit that they have little political leverage. Especially because Democrats plan to use a special procedure, known as budget reconciliation, to move the spending bill along party lines through the evenly split Senate.
Rather, Mr. Ryan argues the GOP is fighting for the “moral high ground” — one he thinks the majority of Americans share.
“This cynical, condescending, arrogant, paternalistic philosophy and vision that the left is displaying with these proposals to make people more dependent upon others in government than upon themselves … is a moral high ground,” he said. “You have to fight for it and you have to communicate as hard as you can.”
At the moment, some of the arguments are already paying off. Centrist Democrats, including Mr. Manchin and Ms. Sinema of Arizona, have forced Mr. Biden to temper the size and scope of the spending package.
The White House has already scaled back its proposal from $3.5 trillion to roughly $2 trillion. Some Democrats even estimate the actual figure for the bill is likely to be between $1.75 trillion and $1.95 trillion.
To reach the figure, Mr. Biden has sidelined several top priorities from the bill, like free community college. Democrats are also negotiating means-testing paid family leave and adding work requirements for the Child Care Tax credit.
Such positions are not broadly popular among Democrats and face long odds of being adopted. The issue of means-testing and adding work requirements for the child tax credit is a particular sticking point for many on the left.
“What I’m worried about, at this very moment, is that 97% of the families in my district with children currently benefit and I’m trying to make sure that whole benefit remains,” said Rep. Steven Horsford, Nevada Democrat. “But right now, I got somebody on the other side who’s trying to put two very onerous provisions … it’s a do or die.”