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Here's why Democrats are still going big on their Covid relief bill

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats Hold Press Conference On American Rescue Plan Act
Surrounded by members of House Democratic leadership, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during a news conference about COVID-19 relief legislation on Feb. 26, 2021 in Washington.Drew Angerer / Getty Images

WASHINGTON — By now, you’ve heard the criticism about the $1.9 trillion Covid relief bill from policy experts and even some Biden allies — it’s too big, the economy seems to be getting better (see today’s jobs report), more Americans are already getting vaccinated and state budget situations aren’t as bad as previously thought.

But as our colleague Benjy Sarlin reminds us, none of this has moved Democrats who are still haunted by the ghosts of 2009, when inadequate stimulus (partly due to overly-rosy forecasts) failed to quickly boost the economy. The collapse in government revenues also led to layoffs and funding cuts that persisted a decade later, making it a particular area of concern this time.

So Democrats learned their lesson from 2009: “The biggest risk is not going too big ... it’s if we go too small. We’ve been here before,” President Biden said last month.

The other lesson Democrats learned: Pay attention to the politics as much as — if not more than — the economics.

Just like in 2009, Democrats are one roll of the actuarial dice away from losing their ability to pass anything significant. If something unexpected happens — a scary new coronavirus variant, for example — there’s no guarantee Republicans will agree to more aid. This may be their only shot, Sarlin observes.

Budget experts also see some reasons to go big. There are still 1.3 million fewer state and local jobs since the pandemic began. And with more aid, local governments (whose financial picture is murkier) may also be willing to take on a greater relief role than last year, when the uncertainty prompted preemptive cuts. This might help poorer families, in particular, who have borne the worst stress from job losses, food insecurity, housing costs, and school closures.

“The trajectory of the virus and the economic recovery are uncertain,” Tracy Gordon, acting director at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, tells NBC’s Sarlin. “State and local governments are traditionally safety net providers for those people and there’s just a lot of risks these governments face.”

Bottom line: Both Democrats and Republicans learned important lessons from 2009.

For Mitch McConnell and the GOP, they learned that unanimous GOP opposition — plus slowing the process down — can produce political headaches for the party controlling the White House and Congress.

For Joe Biden and the Democrats, they learned to go as big as possible — even if it might be more than necessary.

Tweet of the day

Trump’s (not-so) rapid response

It was on Saturday, Feb. 13 when Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell delivered his scathing statement against Donald Trump after voting to acquit the former president, and McConnell followed it up with a Wall Street Journal op-ed on Monday, Feb. 15.

But it wasn’t until Tuesday, Feb. 16 when Trump released his written response calling McConnell a “political hack.”

On Monday, March 1, the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page knocked Trump for losing the House, White House and Senate under his watch.

It wasn’t until Thursday, March 4 when Trump released a statement punching back at the Journal.

And on Wednesday, March 3, longtime GOP strategist Karl Rove penned a Wall Street Journal op-ed criticizing Trump’s CPAC speech.

Trump responded last night, on Thursday, March 4, with a lengthy statement firing back at Rove.

So we’ve learned two things about Trump. One, he’s definitely consuming the Wall Street Journal’s content.

Two, this not-so rapid response is what life is like for Trump without Twitter.

Data Download: The numbers you need to know today

55 percent: The share of New Yorkers in a new Quinnipiac poll who said that Gov. Andrew Cuomo should not resign.

28,957,035: The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States, per the most recent data from NBC News and health officials. (That’s 64,849 more than yesterday morning.)

523,130: The number of deaths in the United States from the virus so far, per the most recent data from NBC News. (That’s 1,916 more than yesterday morning.)

44,172: The number of people currently hospitalized with coronavirus in the United States.

359.5 million: The number of coronavirus tests that have been administered in the United States so far, according to researchers at The COVID Tracking Project.

82,572,848: Number of vaccine doses administered in the U.S.

27,795,980: People fully vaccinated in the U.S.

55: The number of days left for Biden to reach his 100-day vaccination goal.

So who’s the back-up plan for OMB director?

Where does the White House stand on nominating a new person to lead the Office of Management and Budget? According to them, nowhere right now — at least not publicly.

Speaking with reporters on Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said she didn’t “expect to have an announcement this week,” but that the person nominated to be deputy OMB director, Shalanda Young, “would be in a place to be the acting head.”

NBC’s team reported earlier this week that Young is also looking like a likely replacement for Neera Tanden, altogether. Young has strong support from members in the Democratic caucus, and her committee hearing before the Senate Budget Committee this week got a positive review from Republican senators.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told Young, “you’ll get my support, maybe for both jobs.” And Sen. John Kennedy, R-La., said she could be “more than a deputy.”

While many of President Biden’s Cabinet nominees remain in limbo, the search is on to nominate an OMB head to add to the lengthy need-to-be confirmed list.

Shameless plug

NBC’s Lester Holt will anchor a special Saturday broadcast of “Nightly News: Kids Edition” this Saturday, March 6 at 8:30 a.m. ET. The show will feature NBC News correspondent Kristen Dahlgren’s interview with children taking part in coronavirus vaccine trials, as well as NBC News senior medical correspondent Dr. John Torres answering kids' questions about the pandemic.

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world

Aides to Gov. Andrew Cuomo rewrote a state health report last summer to take out alarming statistics about nursing home Covid deaths.

The FEC has some questions about accounting discrepancies in GOP Rep. Jim Jordan’s campaign filings.

Democratic Rep. Tom Malinowski failed to publicly disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars of stock trades.

The Virginia governor’s race is often a crystal ball into the future of American politics. Here’s why it might be again this year.

Here’s what you need to know about stimulus checks in the new Covid relief bill.

Texas’s decision to lift its mask mandate may be a big headache for businesses.

Anthony Fauci says lifting restrictions now is “inexplicable” as cases plateau.

The CEO of Fox Corp. says the Fox News network intends to be the “loyal opposition” to the Biden presidency.

A former State Department aide has been arrested in connection with the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.