Echoing arguments he last made when another Democrat, Barack Obama, was president, U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker spoke out against President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats’ $1.9-trillion economic-stimulus plan today, claiming it “would add to the mountain of debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay.”
Democrats’ economic relief bill would send $1,400 in direct payments to Americans, extend aid for unemployed Americans and give families with children up to $3,600 a year per child.
Sen. Wicker’s opposition to the current economic-stimulus proposal and his criticisms of its $1.9-trillion price tag come after he voted for about $3.6 trillion in stimulus and relief spending under President Trump in 2020.
Like the current bill, the Trump-era stimulus bills packages included direct cash payments to Americans, with $1,200 payments last spring and $600 in the winter along with aid to businesses and unemployment insurance extensions. But Sen. Wicker said today that there is no reason to rush a new stimulus bill through.
‘$1 Trillion is a Terrible Thing to Waste’
Wicker last opposed an economic rescue plan in early 2009, when about 800,000 Americans were losing jobs each month as the Great Recession wreaked havoc on the economy. President Barack Obama and then-Vice President Joe Biden took office that January amid the calamitous housing market crash.
Three days shy of a month into his first term, Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, a $830-billion stimulus package that included tax cuts for individuals and corporations, funding for health care and education, aid for low-income, unemployed and retired workers, and $105 billion for national infrastructure work. Many economists criticized the bill, which did not include direct cash payments to Americans, as too small and insufficient, but Republicans criticized its cost.
Though Senate Republicans forced $150 billion in changes to the Obama-era stimulus bill, no House Republicans voted for it, and only three Senate Republicans voted for it—despite the fact that Republicans in the Senate had succeeded in making $150 billion in changes to the final bill. Wicker voted no, criticizing the cross-partisan “so-called compromise” bill, overstating the bill’s cost as he proclaimed that “$1 trillion is a terrible thing to waste.”
Wicker said the stimulus should have focused more on “real tax relief for Americans, working people, and for those people who create over half the jobs in this country—our nation’s small businesses.” More than two-thirds of that stimulus package, though, was devoted to tax cuts and incentives, including $237 billion for individuals and $51 billion for businesses.
“This bill is full of bad decisions that will take Americans decades to pay for. … Much has been made during this debate by me and by many of my colleagues about how much $1 trillion is. I think we well established that this is a staggering amount of money,” Sen. Wicker said in a Feb. 13, 2009 statement. “Again, Mr. President, this is the most expensive piece of legislation in the history of our republic.”
Wicker Helped Craft $2.2 Trillion CARES Act
When the Republican-led Senate considered the CARES Act, a Trump-backed stimulus package nearly triple the size of Obama’s 2009 stimulus, in March 2020, Sen. Wicker publicly voiced no qualms with its size, praising it as “bipartisan legislation that will bring much needed financial relief directly to the American people.”
“The House of Representatives should act without delay, because the American people need support now,” he said on March 26, 2020, after he voted for the $2.2-trillion CARES Act, which included $1,200 direct payments to Americans, support for businesses and unemployment insurance extensions.
Similarly, Wicker portrayed the Trump-backed $900-billion stimulus plan in December 2020 as an urgent priority.
“After months of unnecessary delays, Congress is working to deliver much-needed relief to the American people,” the Republican senator said in a Dec. 26 statement.
But today, Wicker said Democrats are moving too fast with the $1.9-trillion stimulus bill.
“President Biden’s push for a $1.9 trillion stimulus bill is premature. Over $1 trillion in aid from previous packages has yet to be distributed to those in need,” he said in a Tweet, referring to unspent CARES Act funds that were also unspent when he supported the December stimulus under Trump.
Much of that money is in the hands of states, though, including Mississippi, where $369 million in original CARES Act funds remained unspent as of Jan. 24. At that time, the Mississippi State Auditor’s website reported, the state had also spent none of the $1 billion that Congress sent the state to support education under the December 2020 stimulus bill.
Regarding both stimulus bills under Trump, Wicker admitted at the time that there were things he didn’t like, saying in a Dec. 21 statement that he supported the second stimulus bill even though “this is not the legislation I would have written.” Wicker touted the bill’s passage in a Jan. 4, 2021 “weekly report” on his Senate website, saying that “although it does not contain every priority the president or I wanted, this measure will provide a much-needed boost to families, workers, and businesses weathering the effects of this pandemic.”
In today’s statement on the current bill, though, Wicker said he cannot support it because he disagrees with certain provisions. The bill, he argued, “would allow Planned Parenthood affiliates—which previously had been barred from COVID relief funds—to receive taxpayer-funded aid.”
But under the CARES Act last year, the U.S. Small Business Administration awarded $80 million to dozens of Planned Parenthood affiliates across the country, sparking outrage from anti-abortion Republicans. Not all Planned Parenthood affiliates provide abortion services, though, and many offer other family-planning and health-care services, including cancer screenings and providing contraception needed for health issues other than pregnancy prevention.
Still, the Trump administration and some congressional Republicans demanded the affiliates return the funds. Planned Parenthood defended the affiliates.
“Like many other local nonprofits and health care providers, some independent Planned Parenthood 501(c)(3) organizations applied for and were awarded loans under the eligibility rules established by the CARES Act and the Small Business Administration (SBA), which they met,” Planned Parenthood Vice President of Government Relations & Public Policy Jacqueline Ayers said in a statement last May.
Wicker for ‘Relief Packages,’ Not ‘Spending Bills’
Today, Wicker also expressed concerns about who would benefit from the new bill, which would send the $1,400 payments to the same set of Americans who received the $1,200 and $600 checks last year. Millions of those people should not receive the payments in the next round, though, the senator said. Instead, he said, the Biden stimulus bill should limit the direct-cash recipients to “those who are most in need.”
“Many Americans who would receive checks under President Biden’s proposal, however, have not missed a paycheck during this crisis. … Instead of undermining job creators and spending unnecessary trillions, Congress should play a constructive role by sending relief where it is actually needed,” Wicker said, once again citing the national debt, which rose $7.8 trillion under Trump.
The senator’s statement today is titled, “Wicker Opposes Biden’s Spending Bill.” Conversely, he characterized stimulus bills under Trump, including the more costly CARES Act, as “relief packages.”
Both his March 2020 and December 2020 statements endorsing last year’s stimulus bills bore the same title: “Wicker Supports Coronavirus Relief Package.”
But in 2009, Wicker used the same “spending bill” language to describe President Obama’s stimulus proposal. “Prior to Final Vote, Wicker Outlines His Opposition to $1 Trillion Spending Bill,” read the title of Wicker’s 2009 statement on that year’s $830-billion legislation.
From the Tea Party to Trump
Wicker’s vote against the 2009 stimulus package came amid a brewing revolt on the right aimed at unseating not only Democratic members of Congress, but Republicans seen as working with America’s first Black president. The first wave of Tea Party protests erupted in response to economic-rescue packages.
On tax day 2009, Tea Party protests took place across the state that day. In Jackson, a throng of mostly white, older Tea Party demonstrators marched, carrying 1894 Mississippi state flags featuring the Confederate emblem, photoshopped signs portraying Obama with white makeup reminiscent of “The Joker” in “The Dark Knight” and placards denouncing the new president’s policies as socialism. “Obama Bin Lyin’,” read one of the signs, which played on right-wing efforts to tie the Black president to terrorists like Osama bin Laden.
Outside the Jones County Courthouse in Laurel, a young, dark-haired, newly elected Mississippi state senator named Chris McDaniel looked over a mostly white crowd of protesters, whose signs denounced “bailouts” and insisted they were, “Taxed Enough Already.”
“Hello, fellow radicals,” McDaniel said, introducing himself to the crowd before assuring them that he did not “see radicals” or “terrorists”—even if “Homeland Security might disagree.” Instead, he said he saw “statesmen” and “patriots” speaking up against “a government out of control—a government that’s become oppressive.”
“We don’t want a One World Order. We don’t want a One World Currency,” he told the crowd.
McDaniel would later run as a Tea Party candidate in 2014, nearly ousting long-term Republican Sen. Thad Cochran in a Republican Party primary, leading the incumbent to build alliances with Black Democrats in the state to keep his seat. The Jones County Republican also announced a bid against Wicker in 2018 before withdrawing to run for the seat Cochran vacated before his death. With President Donald Trump’s support, though, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith won election to the seat after Gov. Phil Bryant appointed her to it.
From the start, old right-wing conspiracy theories found new life in the Tea Party following the election of the first Black president. New ones also found fertile soil in the Tea Party Movement, too, including the “birther” conspiracy theory, which baselessly claimed that Obama was born in Kenya, not the U.S., and thus not eligible to serve as president.
Donald Trump, then a reality TV star on NBC, became the foremost purveyor of the birther lie, endearing himself to Tea Partiers who, later, would help catapult him from “The Apprentice” boardroom set to the Oval Office—a perch from which he would continue to espouse debunked conspiracy theories, culminating in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol over his wild, false claims that the election was stolen.
After Acquittal, Wicker Calls for ‘Cooperative Spirit’
On Feb. 13, the U.S. Senate voted 57-43 to find Trump guilty for “incitement of insurrection” at his impeachment trial, failing to meet the two-thirds threshold required for conviction. Seven Republicans joined all Democrats in voting to convict Trump, including a neighboring Deep South senator, Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana.
“Our Constitution and our country is more important than any one person. I voted to convict President Trump because he is guilty,” Cassidy said in a short video message minutes after the vote.
Both senators from Mississippi, including Wicker and Sen. Hyde-Smith, though, voted to acquit Trump for the second time in 12 months.
“During the nearly 234 years of our Constitution’s existence, no public official has ever been convicted in an impeachment trial after leaving office. That long-standing precedent was followed again today,” Wicker said in a Feb. 13 statement.
In 1876, U.S. Secretary of War William Belknap, facing the prospect of impeachment, resigned amid allegations that he had received kickbacks. The U.S. House impeached him despite his resignation. After three days of arguments, senators concluded that an official could still face an impeachment trial after leaving office and held one, later acquitting Belknap of the charges.
I have no illusions that this is a popular decision. I made this decision because Americans should not be fed lies about “massive election fraud.” Police should not be left to the mercy of a mob. Mobs should not be inflamed to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.
— U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, M.D. (@SenBillCassidy) February 15, 2021
In the Feb. 13 statement on Trump’s impeachment trial, two days before announcing his opposition to the stimulus plan, Sen. Wicker said he wants Congress to move forward and work together.
“Like all Americans, I am deeply troubled by the violent actions of individuals who invaded the U.S. Capitol and attacked our law enforcement officers on January 6. The facts surrounding this attack should be fully and thoroughly investigated, and those criminals should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
“I hope we can put this trial behind us and recommit to the cooperative spirit we need to meet our republic’s pressing challenges.”