Winter storms Monday and Tuesday left at least 2.8 million people without power in Texas, sitting in the dark overnight in freezing temperatures. Outages for many are expected to continue through Wednesday. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, has said that power for some residents may not be restored for days.
Democrats criticized Republicans for deregulating the Texas energy system, and for refusing to integrate their grid with other states, a Republican policy choice intended to avoid federal oversight and regulation. But Democrats can do more to highlight Republican Texas failures, while also providing much needed aid to the state. The Senate is planning to move forward next week on the massive Covid-19 relief bill. They should add provisions for relief to Texas residents, and possibly for updating Texas’s power grid into the bill.
President Joe Biden has already approved an emergency declaration, freeing up funds for disaster relief. But there’s no reason Congress can’t approve additional help to affected residents, who have to deal with storm damage and skyrocketing energy prices — electricity spiked from $22/megawatt hour to $9,000 megawatt/hour on Tuesday. Congress could also provide money to upgrade grids unprepared for winter weather or emergency shocks, not just in Texas but nationwide.
Time is of the essence with the Covid relief bill, so getting the money in the bill may be difficult. But aid for people affected by the storm is also crucial. And, as a bonus, aid to Texas would highlight Biden’s promises of bipartisanship.
Republicans have repeatedly blasted Biden for not being bipartisan enough. They claim that using reconciliation to pass the Covid bill — a process that will only require Democratic votes — is a betrayal of his promise to work with Republicans for the nation as a whole.
But bipartisanship never meant that Democrats would give up their priorities if they couldn’t find Republican support. Instead, bipartisanship means that Biden wants to help and govern for all Americans — in red states and blue, whether they are Democrats or Republicans.
This is in sharp contrast to Trump, who regularly tried to block aid or help for those who didn’t vote for him. Most notably, his administration refused to develop a national Covid strategy because they reportedly believed the virus would harm blue states, and make Democratic governors look bad. What better way for Biden to demonstrate he is the president of all Americans than by moving quickly to help people in Texas, whose Republican elected officials have failed them?
Putting Texas aid in the Covid relief bill wouldn’t just bolster Democratic messaging. It would also put Republican lawmakers, and especially Texas Republican lawmakers, in a major bind. Most Senate Republicans are likely to vote against the Covid relief bill, because it includes provisions they dislike — like desperately needed aid to state and local governments. Some will probably vote against it just because they want to oppose any and all legislation by Democrats.
But if Democrats put disaster relief in the bill, then Texas Senators John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, as well as Republican Texas House members, will be put in the position of having to vote against aid for their own constituents while those constituents are suffering in the cold without power. Alternately, they will have to lend their vote to the Democratic aid package. If they oppose the bill, Democratic challengers statewide in Texas have a ready-made campaign ad. And if they support it, then it will be clear to everyone that the Covid bill is a bipartisan effort, and that Biden, unlike Trump, wants to govern even for those who voted against him.
The best part about this strategy is that it isn’t even really a strategy. The federal governmentshould react quickly to help people when they face natural disasters. But the Republican Party’s bone-deep reluctance to address real problems or to help their own constituents gives the Democrats a chance to turn competent government and minimal compassion into partisan talking points.
Governor Greg Abbott has already rushed to television cameras to blame the power outages on wind turbines and the Green New Deal — even though the Green New Deal has not passed, and wind turbines have nothing to do with the grid failure. Republican Mayor Tim Boyd of Colorado City, Texas, made national headlines with a Facebook post in which he attacked his constituents for daring to think that the government would help them during the disaster. “No one owes you are [sic] your family anything; nor is it the local government’s responsibility to support you during trying times like this!” he wrote.
Mayor Boyd resigned, and no Republicans rushed to co-sign his statement. But his comments are an extreme but recognizable distillation of the worst of Republican ideology and governance. As 400,000 Americans died of Covid, Republicans have mostly responded by blocking common-sense public health measures and trying desperately to cut the amount of help constituents receive. They have become a party dedicated to harming not just Democrats, but everyone.
The Democrats, in contrast, have the opportunity to be the party that tries to help all Americans. The Covid bill, which may pass without any Republican support, underlines the contrast. But it would do so even more forcefully if Democrats can add some much needed aid for winter storm victims in Texas.
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