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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

Claim it, Dems, the way David Dayen does in his article, “The American Rescue Plan’s Hidden Triumphs: Medicaid expansion in North Carolina and Eli Lilly’s insulin price cuts are largely due to the March 2021 law” at The American Prospect: “Because of the unlikely prospects for legislative progress between now and 2025 (sigh), pundits are closing the books on Joe Biden’s first-term legacy, which in most accounts begins and ends with three bills: the bipartisan infrastructure law, the CHIPS and Science Act, and the Inflation Reduction Act. This narrative has a nice symmetry to it, establishing Biden as the restorer of industrial policy, preoccupied with reshoring U.S. manufacturing and improving underlying infrastructure….That’s certainly a big part of Biden’s first-term record, but it leaves out his most wide-reaching bill: the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan (ARP), passed with little debate in March 2021. Because inflation happened to spike subsequently, commentary on the ARP has been mostly reduced to whether it was wise to engage in massive fiscal stimulus. (It was.) And because the bulk of the ARP constituted temporary programs, placing it into Biden’s lasting policy legacy might have seemed unnecessary….But over the last week, we’ve seen two unlikely victories for the administration and the public that can be directly traced back to the ARP, proving it to be an underrated piece of legislation that not only changed the government’s blueprint for how to manage a crisis, but altered several unrelated crises in America for good….Last week, the Republican-led legislature in North Carolina announced a deal to expand Medicaid, which, once it’s passed and signed by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, will make it the 40th state (plus D.C.) to do so. Over 600,000 people are expected to get health care coverage under this deal, at no cost to the state….Another health care development last week seems at first glance more divorced from the ARP. Eli Lilly announced that it would cap out-of-pocket costs on its insulin medications for patients with private insurance, and reduce list prices for its most-used insulins. As Robert Kuttner explained in the Prospect, the list price change is the most impactful. An out-of-pocket cap means that the patient only pays a certain amount, but the insurer pays the rest, and usually spreads it out to patients through higher premiums. A list price cut means the drug company loses money. The Inflation Reduction Act’s cap on insulin out-of-pocket costs in Medicare certainly had an influence on Eli Lilly mirroring that for private insurance patients.”

At The Nation, Chris Lehman observes, “In making his reelection pitch, Biden has set a challenge for himself that few recent incumbent presidents have faced: He’s betting that he can defy the overall trend of public opinion and demonstrate that government can actually work, delivering material improvements in the everyday lives of Americans….On paper, that shouldn’t be a tall order for a president who has a battery of ambitious economic achievements to promote—not only the infrastructure package but the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act’s many subsidies to the tech sector, not to mention an economy performing close to full employment. But American politics has long pivoted on a wholesale distrust of government—or, perhaps more accurately, a commitment to divert it to blunter ideological aims, such as the great rolling hellscape known as Ron DeSantis’s policy agenda, or Donald Trump’s own fledgling reelection crusade to marshal federal resources behind right-wing education demagoguery. In a political era of movement-baiting viral memes, Biden’s infrastructure tour felt a bit like a civics class filmstrip….Still, there are potential hidden strengths in Biden’s focused appeal to government-directed enterprise. “I think he’s savvy enough to know the traditional paradox that Americans complain about government and don’t trust it, but they like its specifics,” says Julian Zelizer, a historian at Princeton University. “I would think that an effective strategy is to keep telling people what he’s given them. I don’t know if he’ll do it, though. Democrats are still nervous about playing in the shadow of Republican presidents….Having been vice president when Obama pushed a big stimulus program and didn’t get credit for it—or even take credit for it—is on his mind. Second, I think he saw how, with the Affordable Care Act rollout, the more people experienced the benefits, the more popular it became—to the point that Republicans didn’t want to cut it. And finally, his age puts him in an era when that’s what you did: You boasted about what you did. That was just politics. He’s a different generation.” Lehman  continues, “But even if Biden is the man for this particular message, it’s still far from clear that the message will resonate in this historical moment. Despite his record, polling consistently shows that the public is underwhelmed by Biden’s Oval Office tenure so far, with more than 62 percent of Americans agreeing that he’s done little or nothing over the past two years. Especially troubling is the steady stream of polling indicating that majorities don’t think Biden has performed well in precisely the sort of economic initiatives that he’s going to run on—measures like infrastructure renewal and job creation….Of course, this is also what political campaigns are for—to hammer home achievements and policy agendas across the national landscape—and the 2024 cycle has yet to begin in earnest.”

Charles Pierce has some incisive comments on the soaring popularity of Kentucky’s Democratic governor at Esquire: “Politico spent several hundred words on Wednesday expressing wonder and awe that Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear is favored in his run for re-election in a state the former president* carried by 26 points. The very fact this is considered remarkable is, in and of itself, remarkable….I know I’m just spitballing here—and I realize that this is completely contrary to the spirit of the age—but maybe it’s just because the guy is good at being governor and people like the job he’s doing?” Pierce quotes from the Politico article, which notes “Beshear will have all the advantages generally granted to incumbent governors: the power of the bully pulpit, sky high name ID and approval, and a deep warchest — as of the end of last year, he had over $4.7 million in the bank. A late January survey from Mason-Dixon Polling found that 61 percent of voters in the state approved of the job he was doing, and he had notable leads over potential challengers. Beshear has hosted regular “Team Kentucky” updates and has been ever-present for Kentuckians, who during his tenure in office have navigated the coronavirus pandemic and a string of natural disasters. And Democrats in the state point to a boom of economic growth during his tenure in office. A page on Beshear’s official website brags about delivering “the highest and second-highest revenue surpluses in the history of Kentucky, thanks to strong fiscal management and a hot, record-breaking economy,” which is anticipated to be a major theme in his campaign.” Pierce adds, “I suspect that Beshear’s popularity is enhanced by his resemblance to New Deal Democrats who did so much for Kentuckians in the hard times.”

Here’s a stunner: “More Americans now favor legal cannabis than legal tobacco, surveys show, signaling a sharp societal shift from an era when cigarette-smoking was legal pretty much everywhere and pot-smoking was legal absolutely nowhere,” Daniel De Vise reports at The Hill. ” Fifty-seven percent of American adults would support “a policy prohibiting the sale of all tobacco products,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported in a research brief last month….A slightly larger majority, 59 percent, believe marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use, according to a Pew Research surveyconducted in October. Another 30 percent approve of cannabis for medical use alone. Only 10 percent of the American public believes marijuana should not be legal at all. …The findings reflect growing public consensus that cannabis is safer than tobacco, which the CDC considers the leading cause of preventable death. Studies have found marijuana less addictive than cigarettes and marijuana smoke less harmful to the lungs, although doctors caution that cannabis still poses many potential health hazards….Recent years have seen a remarkable rise in public opinion toward marijuana, whose legalization as a product for recreational sale began with the passage of state measures in Washington and Colorado in 2012.” Although cannabis is still illegal under federal law, “State by state, the national prohibition against cannabis is eroding. Marijuana remains entirely illegal in only three states, Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska, according to the National Council of State Legislatures. Twenty-one states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use. Thirty-seven states allow medical marijuana, and 10 more permit low-potency marijuana derivatives.” The political fallout of the poll could get a bit tricky, since three of the top seven tobacco-producing states are purplish, NC, VA and GA.

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