Still, there are some Republicans with principles. Unfortunately, they’ll be a problem, too.
Mitt Romney deserves a lot of credit for standing up to the authoritarians who dominate his party. He was the only Republican senator who voted to convict Donald Trump after the late-2019 impeachment; he congratulated Biden and Harris almost as soon as the election was called, in stark contrast even to Mitch McConnell, who waited more than a month.
But that doesn’t mean that he’ll be helpful.
After the inauguration, Romney expressed opposition to a new economic relief package, declaring: “We just passed a $900 billion-plus package. Let’s give that some time to be able to influence the economy.”
Now, Romney has earned the presumption that, unlike other Republicans opposing relief, he’s honestly trying to do the right thing. But that’s an utterly clueless remark, indicating that he doesn’t understand what Biden’s proposed package is all about.
While coronavirus relief legislation is often called “stimulus,” that’s not what Biden is trying to do. The economy in 2021 isn’t like the economy in 2009, depressed because there isn’t enough demand; we haven’t fully recovered because we’re still on partial lockdown, with some activities curtailed by the risk of infection.
The goal of policy in this situation isn’t to pump up spending, getting people to eat out and travel. It is, instead, to help people, businesses and local governments get through the difficult period until widespread vaccination lets us go back to business as usual.
And we know, as certainly as we know anything in economics, that the economy will be depressed at least into the summer and probably beyond. The last package didn’t provide remotely enough aid to get us through those months. Asking whether that package boosted the economy therefore completely misses the point; it’s obvious that America needs another round of disaster relief.
So how is it that Romney, who definitely isn’t a stupid man, doesn’t understand the most basic aspects of pandemic economics? My guess, as I already suggested, is that in the years since he was governor of Massachusetts he has shut himself into the conservative intellectual bubble, and he no longer listens to sensible economic analysis, or knows what it sounds like.