Libertarians keep saying that there are very few meaningful differences between the Republicans and the Democrats. And one of the many things revealed by the political response to the coronavirus pandemic is…that there are very few meaningful differences between the Republicans and Democrats.
You can see that in the $2 trillion CARES Act, the single largest spending bill in U.S. history. It passed with 96 yes votes and zero no votes in the Senate. (Four senators could not attend the vote.) After Rep. Thomas Massie (R–Ky.) tried to instigate a conventional recorded vote on the measure, the House passed it on a voice vote so that individual members didn't have to go on the record supporting it. That was something on which the top Democrat (Nancy Pelosi) and top Republican (Kevin McCarthy) joined forces. As Massie told me, they did that to shield current members from having to explain their votes in the fall's election. Technically, the bill passed unanimously, even though he and a few others said they would have voted against it if given the opportunity.
One of the other dissenters was Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan independent who left the Republican Party last summer because he felt that it no longer represented his libertarianish philosophy. On Friday, Amash, who consistently criticized the CARES Act for giving the lion's share of the money to corporations and other special interests rather than individuals, officially submitted a no vote.
"During a national crisis, it's unfortunate that Congressman Justin Amash would once again adhere to an extreme, out-of-touch ideology, even when it means risking the health, well-being, and economic security of thousands of #MI03." —DCCC Spokesperson @Court_Rice
Thirty minutes later, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), "a political committee devoted to increasing the number of Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives," posted these two tweets:
"During a national crisis, it's unfortunate that Congressman Justin Amash would once again work against President Trump, even when it means risking the health, well-being, and economic security of thousands of #MI03." —NRCC Spokeswoman @CarlyAtch
To which Amash replied: "There's about as much independent thinking here as there is in Congress."
There's about as much independent thinking here as there is in Congress. pic.twitter.com/o3cgVN6tVU
— Justin Amash (@justinamash) April 3, 2020
We're constantly being told that we live in increasingly and uniquely polarized times, when the differences between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans, have never been more pronounced or stark.
And yet by the most basic measure of government—spending—we have effectively been living under one-party rule for the entire 21st century. Despite regular turnover of the White House and both houses of Congress, Democrats and Republicans have consistently come together to spend more money, through major terrorist attacks, a historic financial crisis, and now a once-in-a-lifetime (hopefully) pandemic. Since 2000, we've had only three years in which federal spending declined year over year (2010, 2012, and 2013; see table 1.1). Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Washington has increased real spending by $1,441 per person—and that was before the CARES Act passed. There will surely be still more federal spending increases between now and the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The 2020 budget was already a record-high $4.8 trillion; it will likely end up coming in somewhere between $6 trillion and $7 trillion.
Democrats and Republicans will surely continue to disagree about exactly what to spend ever-larger sums of money on, but as that record—and the identical responses to Amash's dissent—make clear, they agree completely on more fundamental issues.
Here's my interview with Thomas Massie about his attempt to force a recorded vote on the CARES Act and the bipartisan anger directed his way: