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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Some insights from “Biden gets a rare hand from Big Business in quest to ease consumer pain: The bully pulpit has produced some interesting results. But how consequential are they?” by Adam Cancryn at Politico: “Just weeks after Biden used his State of the Union to call for crackdowns on insulin prices and “junk fees,” a handful of companies are starting to comply on their own. They’re taking voluntary steps meant to lower patients’ medical bills and make it easier for families to fly together.” This is kind of a BFD. When was the last time you remember a President persuading big biz to lower prices on life-saving meds? Cancryn continues, “The moves have handed Biden a surprise set of wins ahead of an expected reelection bid likely to hinge on his handling of the economy and elevated consumer prices. And within the White House, they’ve injected fresh momentum into a broader domestic agenda built on delivering what the president frequently describes as “a little bit of breathing room” for cash-strapped families….“The president has made clear for over a year now that a top priority is bringing down costs for folks,” said Bharat Ramamurti, deputy director of the National Economic Council and one of the officials spearheading the junk fee initiative. “The fact he’s willing to sharply call out certain behavior and highlight it is encouraging these corporations — at least some of them — to come along with us.”….In a similar vein, three major airlines — United, American and Frontier — are eliminating extra fees often faced by parents wanting to ensure they can sit with their children on flights, a practice Biden slammed last month as akin to treating kids “like a piece of luggage.” Still, they’re keeping the web of other seat and baggage charges that have become the industry norm.” True, such jawboned reforms are not as solid as legislative reforms, and they can be retracted any time. But considering the GOP’s obstructionist posture, credit Biden with doing what he can help consumers and people with health issues, while Republicans can’t come up with even modest health care or consumer reforms. The challenge for Dems is to publicize it.

James G. Chappel discusses “The Frozen Politics of Social Security” at The Boston Review, and writes: “Social Security is back in the news. Some Republicans are angling to reduce benefits, while Democrats are posing as the valiant saviors of the popular program. The end result, most likely, is that nothing will happen. We have seen this story before, because this is roughly where the politics of Social Security have been stuck for about forty years. It’s a problem because the system truly does need repair, and the endless conflict between debt-obsessed Republicans and stalwart Democrats will not generate the progressive reforms we need….More than any other single institution, Social Security keeps the United States from becoming a truly Dickensian world of poverty and despair….Social Security, believe it or not, has a utopian heart: the idea that all Americans deserve a life of dignity and public support once they become old or disabled. This vision does, for now, remain utopian: many Americans are right to worry that, without savings or private pensions, their older years will be just as precarious and austere as their younger ones. Social Security is nonetheless the lynchpin of the U.S. welfare system, such as it is. In 2022 some $1.2 trillion flowed from the system to nearly 66 million people. Most of those people are retired workers, but not all of them. Millions are the spouses or dependents of retired workers; millions more are disabled people, or the spouses or dependents of the disabled. All in all, about one in four Americans over the age of eighteen receives benefits from Social Security. If not for Social Security, almost 40 percent of older Americans would be living in poverty….It is not going too far to say that the Social Security system, more than any other single institution, keeps the United States from becoming a truly Dickensian world of poverty and despair.”

“Despite this dire situation,” Chappel continues, “there has not been a congressional vote, even in committee, on major reforms to Social Security since 1983. This has not been for lack of trying, at least among Democrats. In both the House and the Senate, there are serious bills, with significant support, to salvage the program. The most well-developed, known as Social Security 2100, has more than 200 cosponsors in the House. It’s an audacious bill, planning to expand Social Security benefits for the first time since the 1970s, focusing especially on the caregiving workforce. And in the Senate, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have put forth an even more ambitious plan, which would raise taxes and benefits while expanding the program’s solvency for decades….Still, the odds of anything happening with these bills are low, at least for now. In addition to the expected Republican intransigence, Democrats themselves are not united. The relevant division is between a politics of incrementalism and a politics of bold reform and expansion. Social Security 2100 is on the less ambitious end of the spectrum, especially as it has recently been rewritten to keep Biden’s promise of not raising taxes on people making less than $400,000 per year. As such, the bill does little to address the solvency issue. The Social Security Expansion Act in the Senate is bolder and does more to address both equity and solvency—but few Democratic senators have cosponsored the bill, leaving it oceans away from the required votes….For all their differences, these bills in the aggregate show that Social Security is perfectly capable of providing a vehicle for progressive welfare reform: any of them would do wonders, most obviously for seniors and disabled workers. But all of us, too, would benefit from knowing that something like a livable income was headed our way at the tail end of a serpentine labor market that has almost completely stopped providing traditional pensions. Despite all this, the enormous energy in recent years around expanding Medicare and Medicaid has not been matched by attention to Social Security: the politics around it have languished.” Chappel has much more to say about the history of Social Security, the reasons for the current predicament and potential fixes in this political moment. read his article for more observations.

Rachael Russell shares an update on abortion polling and politics at ‘The Downballot” at Daily Kos. Among her observations: “So we’ve done a lot of polling on abortion, like a lot of other groups in the last year or two. We actually started back in September of 2021 when Texas enacted its crazy vigilante abortion bill for a six-week ban. And since then we’ve really been tracking pretty consistently around abortion rights and access and perception of those, how there has been a steep increase in Americans feeling like the right is at risk in their own state, and nationally….We have consistently found that Americans support access to abortion, and don’t believe the government should take that decision from a patient seeking care. Most recently with the attacks on prescription abortion medication at the state level, we have been tracking support for keeping this medication legal and support for allowing patients to access this medication….We found that by, I believe it was a 37-point margin, Americans support allowing women to legally use prescription abortion medication to end an early abortion at home. This was, I believe around three in five, almost two in three Americans saying that they support this right. This included independents, Democrats and very narrowly Republicans are split, though Republican women have also said that they support this access to abortion medication by a 10-point margin. So we’ve tested some messages to see what Americans view as the most convincing reason to support or to keep abortion medication legal, and we found the most successful message is to focus on its safety and effective record for over 20 years, and being FDA-approved as well as being able to be used as lifesaving treatment for miscarriages….I believe it’s seven in 10 Americans found that those reasons were convincing to keep medication abortion legal. Americans overwhelmingly support the right to access abortion. They absolutely oppose national abortion bans, and this sort of backdoor national abortion ban is something that the American public, if it is to happen, is not going to be happy about. Along with our abortion tracking, we’ve also been tracking favorability of the Supreme Court. While this is a federal court, I know it’s different, but I think it’s really instilling a federal court as a political institution. If these federal courts as well as the Supreme Court continue to curtail access to abortion, we’ll continue to see a decline in their favorability and trust in the institution just generally.”

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