The Emptiness of Democrats’ Big Deal

“the roots of the Democratic divide go back to last November, to the arguments over what happened, and to the way to respond to those results. In those first days after Election Day, Democrats discovered that their hopes for widespread gains were dashed: Instead of gaining 10 or 5 House seats, they wound up losing 13, leaving a House majority you could count on the fingers of one hand. Their control of the Senate came down to a Georgia Senate race where Republican David Perdue came within a quarter of one per cent of avoiding a runoff. (Their hopes for gains at the state level were equally crushed; they did not win control of a single chamber anywhere in the country.)

In the wake of these results, different factions of the party took two very different lessons. For the more centrist Democrats like Virginia Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who barely survived, she and others in competitive districts complained that they had been hurt badly by both cultural (“defund the police!”) and economic (“socialism!”) charges, leading to defections from traditional Democratic voters. For more progressive (and self-defined socialists) like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the turnout of Black, brown and left-leaning voters was the key to Biden’s victory; the failures in the more purple districts were due to a lack of clear and compelling messaging.

The more consequential question, however, was what to do in the face of perilously narrow Democratic margins. Both factions of the party saw the same daunting challenge: the likely prospect of the loss of the House in 2022 (history and redistricting seemed to guarantee that), and the need to offer the country demonstrable proof that Democrats could deliver tangible results. But what kind of results?

The bipartisan infrastructure bill was one answer: a $1.2 trillion package — with some $579 billion of new money — to fix the roads, bridges, rails, grid and broadband across the country. It would be a rare example that Biden and the Democrats were serious about reaching across the aisle and making things better.

The president and congressional leadership chose that path, but also something much more ambitious — even unprecedented — a multitrillion-dollar plan that would expand Medicare and child care and provide free community college, universal pre-K and a legion of other initiatives. It would move the United States several steps closer to the kind of social safety net common in most of the industrialized world. And it would do so in a political environment unlike anything in the past.

Historically, major social legislation has always followed sweeping Democratic victories in the political arena. The New Deal and the Great Society legislation came after Democrats won both presidential landslides and massive congressional majorities (and-not-so-incidentally — significant numbers of Republican allies). We’ve never seen an effort to enact such sweeping changes on the domestic front with so little breathing room.”

“For Biden, Pelosi and Schumer, there remains one pesky problem in embracing a massive budget reconciliation package: they do not yet have the votes for anything like a $3.5 trillion bill. We don’t know what price tag Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, Josh Gottheimer and other centrist Democrats will find acceptable. We don’t know if House progressives will doom the infrastructure bill if the final Senate figure on the reconciliation package is unsatisfactory. We don’t know if a sliver of moderates will indeed tank the social safety net bill once infrastructure passes, in the belief that they cannot win in their districts if the cost is too high.”

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