Republican assault on Biden recalls FDR

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By Earl Ofari Hutchinson

Contributing Columnist

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was blunt in calling President Joe Biden’s big stimulus spending bill nothing but a “poorly targeted borrowing spree.”

McConnell simply snatched a page from the Republican Party’s playbook when it comes to the Democrats. Republicans tag any Democrat who champions increased regulatory powers, higher taxes on corporations and the rich, greater public spending on health, education and job programs, and bolstering entitlement programs as a reckless, tax-and-spend enemy of private enterprise.

Not one Republican senator backed Biden’s stimulus bill. The skimpy compromise stimulus that a handful of Republican senators proposed instead smacked of the GOP’s long-standing loathing of anything that remotely hints at big government overreach.

Biden has tried to pry a Republican senator or two to support his big spending measure, but he will only get that bit of bipartisan support by paying a price and that price is watering down the stimulus package. If that happens, it will simply be a carbon copy of the past, a past that started with Franklin Roosevelt decades back.

Republicans, with some help from a small, but pesky clique of Democratic congressional conservatives, big industrialists and conservative newspaper moguls, fought FDR tooth and nail on every one of his reform proposals from Social Security to tighter industry regulation.

FDR had to tweak, compromise and water down his proposals, even the successful ones, to get passage. His more far-reaching proposal for a national health care plan never got off the ground.

No president, and that includes FDR, was a bigger target of the GOP attack line on government than former President Barack Obama. The vast storehouse of political slurs, snide innuendoes, verbal broadsides and name calling was heaped on his head.

The aim was to permanently tag him as the penultimate example of a Democratic president who would make big government the all-embracing, all encompassing arbiter of American life, at the expense of the private sector.

During his first term, the withering assault by the GOP forced Obama to bend over backward to conciliate, compromise, water down and even shelve many proposals to expand government protections and benefits to poor and working persons.

But this still brought back the howls of a big government overreach, and dire warnings that this would gut big business. The Roosevelt comparison was in order here.

Following his landslide reelection victory in 1936, Roosevelt ignored the administration baiters and lurched left. He increased spending on job programs, continued to pound the “economic royalists” for subverting the economy, and attacked auto and steel giants and the super rich for doing everything to stymie the recovery.

FDR raised the ante even higher when he appointed Robert Jackson as the aggressive new director of the antitrust division of the Justice Department with a clear mandate to hit hard at the trusts.

In a fireside chat, FDR talked bluntly with the American people immediately after the 1938 election and made it clear he would not reverse course and that he would do everything he could to “create an economic upturn” by keeping the government firmly in the business of creating jobs and economic security for the millions still suffering from the Depression.

It is pretty much the same in 2021. The GOP’s party line is that millions of Americans still clamor for a return to fiscal conservatism, and a sprint backward on expanding government programs in education, housing and highway and urban infrastructure construction and reconstruction. Polls, of course, show the exact opposite.

The majority of voters want Congress to work with Biden on solving the nation’s problems. Most importantly, that means taking drastic relief measures to combat COVID’s crippling of the economy.

One can argue all day that the GOP never saw a bloated defense spending bill that it wouldn’t back. But it means nothing to McConnell and a Republican Party hell bent on derailing Biden’s big spending plan.

There is too much political risk now in the GOP’s mounting an all-out frontal attack on Biden and his plan for more government spending in vital areas. So, the new code word for that is simply to continue to pound on the need for deficit reduction and fiscal restraint. This has just enough public and administration resonance to appear sensible, moderate and reasonable.

Biden and the Democrats have given no sign that they will bow to the GOP. The proposals on unemployment, a direct stimulus payment boost, massive aid to the states and cities, boosting housing and food nutrition programs, and hundreds of other programs aid the poor and jobless.

FDR didn’t panic in the face of the GOP as an architect of big, unaffordable government. He stayed the course, remained true to his populist faith, turned the tables on his foes and dared them to move the country forward not backward.

Biden appears willing to do the same. It will take that to get his big stimulus bill through.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He is the author of the forthcoming “What’s Right and Wrong With the Electoral College” (Amazon Kindle). He also is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.

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