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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

In “Wanted: A better Build Back Better campaign,” E. J. Dionne, Jr. writes at The Washington Post: ““The public chaos of last week demonstrated many things: that the various wings of the Democratic Party misread each other; that the relentless focus on the single number of $3.5 trillion has left most Americans clueless about what Biden wants to do; and that the party’s exceptionally narrow majorities in Congress require more finesse than even its most skilled vote-counters anticipated….If there is good news for Biden and his party, it’s that each side in the internal skirmishes now knows the other’s strengths and red lines….Moderates learned that progressives have the numbers in the House to block a physical infrastructure bill if Biden’s broader social and climate investment program isn’t passed alongside it. Progressives learned that the overall spending number in the package has to come down more than they initially thought to satisfy Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.)….And Biden administration officials acknowledge that the president and his allies need to do a far better job in refocusing the debate away from the big numbers and toward the concrete help the president’s initiatives offer to middle-class and lower-income families. He plans extensive travel to stress such measures as expanded child care, the child tax credit and health coverage, along with the urgency of action on climate change….What Democrats must fight above all are misrepresentations of the Build Back Better bill as some left-wing scheme. On the contrary, Biden’s proposals are a direct response to critiques often emanating from middle-of-the-road Democrats: that the party needs to spend less time on cultural issues and more on fighting for direct benefits to the working and middle classes, a cause that unites voters across racial and regional lines….“This package goes to the very heart of why working-class Americans vote Democratic,” Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-Pa.), one of Biden’s earliest and staunchest supporters, told me. “If we are able to pass this bill, I am confident it will help us with those blue-collar voters who went for Obama twice and swung to Trump.”

“Sinema has, for the last few years, had the same ideological record as Manchin,” Harry Enten writes in “Why Kyrsten Sinema’s tactics may backfire” at CNN Politics. “As I’ve noted before, Manchin’s ideological record is about the best Democrats can hope for from West Virginia….But Democrats can hope for more from an Arizona Democrat. Their party has a much easier time winning in Arizona than West Virginia….Start with what happened in last year’s presidential election. President Joe Biden won the state of Arizona by 0.3 points. West Virginia, unlike Arizona, is a red state. Biden lost the state by 39 points. This came after Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton lost the state by more than 40 points in 2016….Arizona, on the other hand, is purple and has been chugging to the left. Biden did 4 points better than Clinton, who in turn did 6 points better than Barack Obama in 2012….Part of what may be happening is that Sinema thinks that Arizona is a redder state than it actually is. That’s understandable insofar as Democrats have only started winning statewide races there with regularity recently….Democrats in Arizona now control two of the five seats on the state’s corporation commission, the secretary of state’s office and superintendent of public instruction office. They also hold five of the nine US House seats….Sinema may be leaving herself open to a primary challenge — a possibility certain liberal groups are already eyeing….And unlike Manchin, who has beaten back primary challenges easily, Sinema isn’t going to face a primary electorate where less than 40% of registered Democrats call themselves liberal….Democrats in Arizona are about as liberal as the national average, according to both the 2020 primary exit polls and CES. More than 60% of Democrats called themselves liberal in both surveys….The bottom line is that Sinema may be unnecessarily moderate for her own electoral good. Maybe it’ll work out for her. Still, It’s possible though that not only is she making Biden’s life more difficult, but her own electoral future more difficult as well.”

Is the pivotal importance of the infrastructure and reconciliation packages over-hyped? At The Washington Monthly, Matthew Cooper writes in “Stay Calm. Biden’s Presidency Is Not “On the Line with Build Back Better” that “we don’t know what will determine the fate of the midterm elections next year. There are past trends, such as the president’s party losing seats in Congress. But that’s hardly preordained. In two of the past seven midterms, the president’s party has gained seats. In 1998, Democrats increased their House numbers when the public was more revolted by Ken Starr’s hyper-zealous prosecution of Bill Clinton than by the latter’s behavior. In 2002, voters gave the GOP a boost in the midterms as George W. Bush prosecuted his “global war on terrorism” but hadn’t yet lurched into Iraq. Biden, like Bush in 2002, post-9/11, or even FDR in 1934 amid the Depression, may benefit from the unparalleled challenge of the pandemic. We don’t know….We do know that passing significant legislation doesn’t guarantee midterm success. The first two years of Barack Obama and Lyndon Johnson’s terms suggest as much. If passing Medicare didn’t help Democrats in 1966 when they got slaughtered, will Build Back Better help in 2022?….The COVID-19 pandemic will shape the midterm elections more than the fate of the bill. If we go from a Delta variant to, say, a more transmissible, more toxic Sigma variant next year, that’ll matter more than the phase-in of paid family and medical leave. Flattening the curve will prevent Republicans from flattening Democrats….Another reason Build Back Better might not affect the midterms is that its benefits won’t be felt for some time, far after the midterms. The immensely popular provision in the bill to provide Medicare benefits for hearing aids and dental care will be phased in, so it’s not like Aunt Gladys will have a new set of teeth by Election Day.

Cooper adds, “Other provisions will require a long delay while federal agencies craft regulations. Probably the most important item in the bill is a long extension of the child care tax credits passed earlier this year in the American Rescue Plan Act, which are due to expire. If passed, that won’t be felt at all. It’ll just be a continuation of what families are getting now….Of course, passage of the massive legislation, even trimmed, combined with the passage of a bipartisan infrastructure bill, would give Democrats some bragging rights come November 2022. But if Build Back Better doesn’t pass, Biden can still run on what he’s done: overseen the vaccination of what will be more (possibly way more) than 200 million Americans; passed a series of emergency measures that kept the economy from hemorrhaging; and enacted the American Rescue Plan Act, with its stimulus checks and health insurance subsidy…..Biden can also brag about leveraging his power for popular mask mandates. He can brag about bringing an end to the unpopular war in Afghanistan (albeit without glory), and ending the insanity and corruption of the Trump years. Those are things to run on. The economy seems to be on a good trajectory, inshallah….But will the public say that, since Democrats control both chambers, they’re dolts because they couldn’t pass the president’s bill? I doubt it. It may give Biden a reason to argue in the midterms that he needs a real majority in Congress, not a precariously thin one that one intransigent senator can scuttle. The collapse of Build Back Better might give him and members an excellent chance to make a public case for killing or curtailing the filibuster. What’s more, if the failure of Build Back Better led to the passage of a voting rights bill, that could potentially do more to help the party than anything else….I don’t know where this all ends. I tend to think that Schumer and Pelosi can and will pass a bipartisan infrastructure bill and Build Back Better in some limited form, maybe by another name. They might shorten the bill’s duration from 10 to five years or excise some significant chunks until next year. Even if it doesn’t pass, however, it’s not the Democrats’ last chance at holding on to their majority. Their fate has much more to do with protecting the nation from the ravages of viral mutations than anything else.”

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