Republicans Lose Stimulus Battle, but May Still Win 2022 War

Republican lawmakers have come under criticism for opposing the COVID-19 relief bill, but it is not yet clear how this will impact the GOP in the 2022 midterms, election strategists have told Newsweek.

Democrats celebrated a victory with the signing of the bill by President Joe Biden on Thursday, after it passed Congress with no Republican support.

Polling has shown the American public backs the $1.9 trillion package, putting Republicans at odds with their own voters.

Democratic Rep. Pramila Jayapal suggested on Thursday that the GOP's opposition could prove a "tactical mistake."

However, strategists told Newsweek it was too soon to determine how the policy would play in the 2022 midterms, adding that Republicans could turn opposition to their advantage.

"There's a lot in the bill to like but, as the contents of the bill become better known, Republicans may have the opportunity to campaign against those portions of the bill that have nothing to do with COVID relief," said Douglas Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee.

"Certainly Democrats will want to talk about the portions of the bill that are popular, but as more details are known—payouts for unions, Cadillac-level leave for federal employees, etc—will the bill remain as popular? We just don't know."

Matt Gorman, a Republican strategist who worked on Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney's presidential campaigns and is now a vice president at the agency Targeted Victory, said GOP lawmakers had been "remarkably disciplined" in sticking to arguments over how the money was being spent and linking their arguments to schools reopening.

Looking to the midterms, he said: "I think the Republican argument can resonate. I also think there's a long way away from November 2022."

us capitol building reflection
The U.S. Capitol is reflected on the hood of a car on February 10 in Washington, D.C. Democrats and Republicans will battle for control of Congress again in November 2022. Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

Frank Luntz, a GOP pollster and political commentator, said it would take time for people to make up their minds about the legislation and its impact—making the outlook for 2022 unclear.

"The Democrats benefit as long as there is no waste or fraud or abuse in the legislation," he said, suggesting it could take months to take stock of the relief bill.

However, Democratic strategist Jesse Ferguson, deputy national press secretary for Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, predicted that voters would remember who supported the stimulus, come the midterms.

Ferguson said: "Republicans better hope that voters have forgotten by next November but, given how devastating COVID has been, it's hard to see people forgetting the lawmakers who were on their side and the lawmakers who weren't.

"Most Americans, in red states and blue states, see this bill as a rescue from the COVID pandemic—with vaccine funding and economic relief. Republicans making up conspiracies about it only reinforce that they did the wrong thing for people."

A Democratic National Committee spokesperson, Eduardo Silva, said: "As voters get vaccinated, get more money in their pockets and their lives begin to return to normal, they will remember it was the Democratic Party who united to deliver them the help they needed, while every last Republican in Congress tried to stand in the way."

Newsweek has also contacted the Republican National Committee for comment.

Republican lawmakers have doubled down on their criticism of the bill in recent weeks, calling it partisan and questioning the amounts directed specifically at combating the virus.

Every seat in the House and 34 in the Senate will be contested in November next year. The party that controls the White House tends to lose seats in the midterms.

Republicans will be aiming to attempt to flip the Senate and House. The upper chamber is split 50-50, with Democrats holding the majority through Vice President Kamala Harris' tiebreaking vote. Republicans made gains in the House last November, reducing the Democrats' majority.

The graphic below, from Statista, shows the breakdown of spending within the $1.9 trillion relief package.

Stimulus Package 1.9tn - Statista
Statista