The following editorial first appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
We know that most of the founders — most notably Washington, Hamilton and Adams — greatly feared what they called “faction,” or what we today call partisanship, or party politics.
You don’t have to be Hamilton or Adams to see why.
What happens is that party becomes a substitute for country and ideology, or the party line becomes a substitute for common sense, practicality and reason.
Consider the debate about how to deliver Round 3 of COVID-19 relief.
The Democrats want something “bold” and dramatic — something that will cost $1.9 trillion. The Republicans want something more modest — in the $600 billion range — because, well, it is hard to say. Partly this seems to be the only way to differentiate themselves and partly they are trying to channel the now long-forgotten ideal of fiscal accountability, which used to be GOP gospel.
For the past four years, 90% of the Republicans have been silent as the federal budget was busted and busted again. There is a wide credibility gap to be made up here.
Meanwhile, many Americans are heartened by the fact that members of the opposition party in the Senate — 10 of them anyway — have any plan at all and are not simply and wholly in opposition to anything the president proposes.
We are also heartened by the fact that Republican legislators asked a Democratic president for a meeting, he accepted, and a fruitful and civil discussion was had.
Words like “compromise” and “comity” are in vogue again and that is a far cry from a riot at the Capitol and the vice president being whisked away for his own safety.
We should be encouraged by civility and a president and an opposition both willing to listen.
But here is another truth, one below the encouraging one: The Democrats are going to push their plan through via the budget reconciliation process (which Republicans have often done in the past). This will happen on a party-line vote. The Republicans are not yet fully serious about an alternative. And both sides need a better plan.
According to Karen Tumulty of The Washington Post, the Biden/Democratic plan would send checks of $1,400 to some families making in excess of $300,000 a year.
How in the world is it “progressive” to send money to people most Americans would regard as quite wealthy? They are surely not struggling.
The whole idea of another relief measure is to prime the pump, yes — to infuse money into the economy.
But it is also, or should be, to help people who are really hurting.
What is needed is a two-pronged refinement of relief plans — some sort of means test for aid and some targeting toward those suffering the most. In that second category would be the restaurant industry and rural areas of the country.
The Republican plan, an outline of a plan, really, at least aims at individuals making $50,000 or less.
But even this should be graduated and refined: The individual making $25,000 or less needs more help than the one making $50,000. It is hard to see why the individual making $100,000 should get any kind of check, unless he has just been laid off.
Some people who got the last round of checks did not prime the pump. They banked their checks.
Let’s keep that in mind for Round 3. Let’s try to learn and not just be more knee-jerk and reckless.
The good news is that the president has indicated that he is willing to revisit targeting and income limits — down the line.
What is at work is the “one medicine” syndrome that infects our two major parties. No matter the problem, the Democrats say regulate. No matter the problem, Republicans say deregulate. The trouble is, the problems change.
What would you think of a doctor who, no matter the malady, prescribed aspirin and chicken soup? What if the problem is cancer?
Or a doctor who always prescribed chemotherapy?
What if the problem is a cold?
In this instance, as so many others, the Democrats say, “Let’s throw a big pile of money at it and see what happens.” The Republicans say, “Let’s throw about a third as much.”
But half or a third of a half-baked plan is not a plan, or an alternative.
Democrats might be better off buying and delivering vaccines with most of the dough. That would be better than transfer payments to the wealthy.
Republicans don’t even have a plan for aid to towns and cities, most of which are broken and some of which will have to lay off first responders.
Compromise, yes, but on more thoughtful plans that actually are plans.