The Corner

Economy & Business

2009 vs. 2020

President Donald Trump speaks during a signing ceremony for the $2.2 trillion coronavirus aid package bill as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell , House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, and Vice President Mike Pence stand by in the Oval Office of the White House, March 27, 2020. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Why did Republicans just approve spending big money on a “stimulus” bill when they railed against one in 2009? That’s the question Adam Serwer raises in The Atlantic. It can’t be, he explains, that Americans who are suffering because of coronavirus and the measures taken against it are having hard times through no fault of their own. That was also true of Americans suffering from the recession in 2009. So he concludes that the difference is that a Republican president is in office now while a Democratic one was then. Republicans are a threat to our country because they refuse to treat Democratic governance as legitimate. (Nearly everything I have read from Serwer has been dedicated to the proposition that Republican governance isn’t legitimate, but I suppose that’s different.)

It does not seem hard to see other distinctions between 2009 and 2020. One: The 2020 bill isn’t really a stimulus, even though it is called that. The central argument for the 2009 bill was that it would help the economy. A lot of Republicans didn’t think it would.* The central argument for this year’s bill isn’t that it will expand a depressed economy. It’s a measure that combines relief for people and businesses affected by the crisis and direct measures to combat it (like medical funding). The arguments are different, as is the force of the arguments.

Two: Much of the relief the bill provides is for people suffering from government orders to shut down normal economic activity. That fact matters to conservatives both because it erodes our general hostility to government spending and because the relief is intended in part to make the shutdowns more effective (e.g., by enabling compliance).

Third: Republicans at the time had justified complaints that they were shut out of the process of drafting the legislation. Obviously they weren’t this time, and neither were the Democrats.

Serwer writes, “Eleven years later, America is facing a different crisis: a global pandemic. . .” Well, yes. He could have stopped right there.

*Serwer suggests that Republicans thought the stimulus would help the economy and opposed it for that very reason, as a matter of strategy. “McConnell’s calculation was correct. Deliberately inflicting greater suffering on the American people did help bring Republicans back from the wilderness.” This follows an extended passage in which the careful reader will note that nobody, named or anonymous, provides any evidence that McConnell or other Republicans made this calculation or thought that a negative vote amounted to inflicting suffering.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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