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With Biden’s signature legislation stalled, Democrats stare into the political vacuum

“I don’t think any of us expect something else to happen,” said Colin Strother, a Democratic agent and veteran of House campaigns in Texas. Strother said the party in Washington has “underestimated, underperformed and under-sold” its successes so far. “It has left our opponents emboldened or our supporters defeated and our prospects for 2022 are grim, if not grim. So we’ve got a lot of work to do to get out of this… We better have some fucking golden shovels.

Democrats bet the public would reward them for moving quickly through the Build Back Better program. Many individual items have strong public support, including proposals to reduce health insurance premiums and expand an ambitious expansion of the child tax credit, which was previously touted as a tax cut. for the middle class. Perhaps the most powerful element, according to those close to the White House, would be Democrats’ ability to torch Republicans for preventing companies from paying higher taxes to help fund the plans.

But their ambitions suddenly got out of hand late last year, when Senator Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) announced he could not support the latest version of the bill. As the law falters and the White House swings toward the right to vote, the campaigns sketch story arcs around their past accomplishments and how Republicans thwarted further progress. Stan Greenberg, the veteran Democratic pollster, pointed out that the loss of the major bill could significantly increase the difficulty for Biden’s party in an already difficult political environment.

“It gets a lot harder if you talk about what the Republicans cut rather than what you delivered,” said Greenberg, one of the few officials POLITICO spoke to and who still believes Democrats could pass something – even a lean social spending bill. – by Congress in the coming months. “If that thing goes, you really have a very different definition of election,” he said.

White House officials insist they are far from abandoning adoption of the sweeping climate and social spending agenda, and say talks are continuing between staff and a wide range of key lawmakers. “Every major economic bill that we have passed, like the American bailout plan and the bipartisan infrastructure act has had its ups and downs and required getting the job done while avoiding noise,” the door said. – White House speech, Andrew Bates.

On Thursday evening, Biden himself greeted Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the centrist Democrats who are delaying his national platform, mainly to discuss voting rights measures. But dismay at even more traffic jams is already setting in on Capitol Hill, where for months Democrats have been frustrated by their colleagues for standing in the way.

“We need to work on Plan B now and Plan B would be what we would do if Build Back Better collapsed completely,” said Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Who represents a field district of battle and urge Democrats to focus on legislation that may emerge from the larger package, mentioning health care and home health care as starting points. “I don’t want us to end up in a situation where we’re trying to advance individual bills that, quite frankly, have no chance of success. It’s the same as banging your head against the wall.

Democrats overseeing House races across the country said that while officials would continue to tout their push to build back better in the short term, they expected they would soon spend more fully focusing on it. that they delivered. They plan to look into passing a massive infrastructure bill and the Covid relief plan, touting it as helping to save the economy from the depths of the pandemic.

“We need to take the accomplishments of this administration and make sure the American people see them, hear them and feel them. We can’t dwell on what we haven’t done, ”said Bradley Beychok, co-founder and senior adviser of Democratic super PAC American Bridge. “If we do that, we’re going to have some really tough halfways. »

The preparation work underway for a campaign season without BBB going on the ballot is the latest indication Democrats believe the legislative effort may never get back on track. It also highlights how little time Democrats have left to make their sales pitch to voters. Democrats fear they will have to start touting their victories before voters’ views on Biden and Congress start to really harden.

In Nevada, Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is deploying a re-election effort that party officials say will remain largely intact no matter what happens with the climate bill and domestic spending. The senator plans to focus largely on the work of Democrats to revive the economy, reverse the high unemployment rate during Covid, and protect the state’s travel and tourism industry. On the infrastructure front, she puts forward concrete actions such as obtaining money for a water recycling plant to fight against the drought that serves hundreds of thousands of people in southern Nevada.

“There is so much that can be promoted locally that we have to get down to business. It started, but it can last a whole year, ”said Martha McKenna, the Democratic publicist, referring to all the projects that will receive funding from the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed in the fall. last. “We should be able to organize press events and draw attention to [the bill], both from the point of view of physical infrastructure, but also in terms of job creation.

In Arizona, Democratic Senator Mark Kelly tries to boast his bipartisan credentials by highlighting spending on infrastructure, wildfires and water in his state, as well as dozens of bills he has drafted and co-sponsored with Republicans. Kelly is also focusing on vaccinations, donning a face shield to kick the ass to her constituents.

But this more localized focus could end up being overshadowed by a the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic, the rise in the costs of groceries and merchandise, a nagging unease over the direction of the country and historical trends that strongly disadvantage the ruling party. And others are seeing the first signs of possible problems even as prices drop and the virus stops spreading so quickly – that Americans are feeling bitten by a snake by last summer’s surge, and are not not fully convinced that things are not going to turn bad anymore.

A notorious failure to pass Build Back Better – alongside an inability to move voting rights and police reform legislation – could further depress Democratic voters who typically lose faith in the president at a time when he desperately needs them.

When asked if his party would face negative consequences in the election if key provisions of the social and climate spending bill were not passed, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Said that Democrats should craft “a strong message to voters” anyway. Fingering a sustained Republican intransigence towards most of Biden’s agendas, Durbin admitted Democrats should just play their stronger hand in the fall.

“We’re not going to be able to deliver everything we wanted,” Durbin said.

The scuttling of Build Back Better could also complicate the administration’s efforts to fight inflation, if their own arguments are to be believed. For months, Biden and senior White House officials have singled out economists who argue Build Back Better would help reduce inflation – not raise it – as skeptics, including Manchin, have argued. .

On the flip side, the administration’s accelerated measures to fight inflation face overwhelming doubts among voters who are surfacing in Democratic polls and focus groups for House and Senate races that the government is in the best position to mitigate price spikes.

This leads some party members to conclude that if Democrats passed a scaled-down and focused version of the climate and spending bill, they could ultimately thank Manchin for narrowing it down to the more popular elements.

With no such push to materialize in earnest, there is now more momentum to focus on infrastructure and optimistic portfolio issues such as job and wage growth, said Jefrey Pollock, a pollster. democrat.

“There are a lot of accomplishments to talk about,” he said. “From Congress in particular, we have to have an economic case for the voters that says we’ve made a difference and we can make a difference in their lives.

“It would be nice to build better – it would be nice to talk about a number of things that are in there,” Pollock added. “Good, but not necessary to be successful. »

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.


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