As Democrats backpedal from their “defund police” slogan amid a surge in violent crime across urban America, they are road-testing a new meme: It was actually Republicans who voted to defund police by voting against the Biden $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. The bill included $350 billion in state and local stimulus funds available to replenish police budgets, among myriad other uses.
Yet Democratic efforts to redefine stimulus funding as police funding are undermined by an inconvenient reality: Major Democrat-run cities that have received generous infusions of “rescue” funds voted to slash or freeze police funding.
On Thursday, President Biden said cities could use federal funds from his stimulus bill to hire more police officers amid spikes in crime.
“We’re now providing more guidance on how [state and local governments] can use the $350 billion nationally that the American Rescue Plan has available to help reduce crime and address the root causes,” Biden said. “For example, cities experiencing an increase in gun violence were able to use the American Rescue Plan dollars to hire police officers needed for community policing and to pay their overtime.”
Over the weekend, Biden adviser Cedric Richmond imparted an explicitly partisan twist to that funding. “Republicans are very good at staying on talking points of who says defund the police, but the truth is, they defunded the police, we funded crime intervention, and a whole bunch of other things,” Richmond told Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace.
Wallace himself was quick to echo the theme. “Can’t you make the argument that it’s you and the Republicans who defunded the police?” Wallace asked Rep. Jim Banks, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi posted a statement the same day highlighting Wallace’s “tough questions,” and White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki followed up Monday joined the effort to paint the GOP as the defund-the-police party.
Yet, efforts to “make the argument,” as Wallace put it, that it’s “Republicans who defunded the police” are complicated by the blue cities who accepted stimulus money from the plan and still moved against police budgets.
After the city of Oakland received $192 million in stimulus funds, the city council voted to cut the police budget by nearly $20 million. According to Oakland Democratic Mayor Libby Schaff’s budget, “addressing our current and future needs would not have been possible this year without the one-time infusion of $192 million Oakland was granted from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act (“ARPA”).”
The Oakland city council formally voted on Thursday to shift millions away from the city’s police budget. Oakland residents are reportedly worried about that decision, given the rising crime in the city, according to local news reports.
Los Angeles is another Democratic-run city that cut its police budget and shifted the money to other areas. In 2020, the city council voted for a $150 million reduction to the city’s police department. In March of this year, Los Angeles received $1.3 billion in federal stimulus funds under the American Rescue Plan Act.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney’s recent budget proposal did not increase the city’s police budget compared to the previous year. Philadelphia reportedly received $1.4 billion under Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act.
Democrats used budget reconciliation to pass the stimulus legislation without any Republican votes in the Senate, which is split 50-50.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell said on Monday that Republicans were opposed to the stimulus legislation due to rising inflation concerns and increasing labor shortages in various industries. McConnell credited former Obama economic advisor Larry Summers for predicting, prior to the bill’s passage, that inflation would result from flooding the economy with too much borrowed money in a short period of time.
“He predicted we’d have raging inflation, and that’s in fact what we’re grappling with today,” McConnell said.
He urged more states to end the bonus federal unemployment benefit of $300 per week, which is part of the American Rescue Plan, as a way to combat labor shortages that have hits restaurants, retailers, theme parks, childcare centers and community pools seeking lifeguards.
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