President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better bill won’t get a vote this year, a major setback for the majority party in Washington, D.C.
The news broke Wednesday, followed soon by a trial balloon on passing the Democrats’ sweeping new election law instead. Within hours that that balloon had popped, too — Arizona’s Sen. Kirsten Sinema said she would not support such an entirely partisan rule change.
And now Democrats, who control the White House, House, and Senate, are facing the prospect that their record of accomplishment in next year’s midterms could end with the bipartisan infrastructure bill — and nothing else. With inflation and COVID cases soaring and Biden’s polls sagging, it’s a troubling scenario for Democrats in swing states like New Hampshire, Arizona and Georgia.
Nobody is reporting the Build Back Better bill is dead and buried. But the consensus among political pros is the closer the vote gets pushed back to next year’s midterms, the less likely Democrats can get the 50 votes they need to pass it via reconciliation.
Just a few weeks ago, Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.) was calling the House version of the bill “by far the most significant piece of legislation ever passed in the world.” On Wednesday, NBC News quoted multiple sources saying a vote is likely delayed until March.
Candidates in states like Texas and Illinois begin filing to run in their parties’ primaries in March, officially kicking off the 2022 campaign season.
Jim Geraghty of National Review believes the Democrats “will pass something. It may be a little more than $1 trillion, it may be a little less. But my suspicion is Democrats will pass something.
“Coming home completely empty-handed will be just too much for them,” Geraghty added.
But would burying the Build Back Better plan really be so bad for embattled Democrats like Sen. Maggie Hassan of Sen. Mark Kelly in Arizona? Or members of Congress like Rep. Chris Pappas, who’ve already voted for the extremely progressive House version of the bill?
The New Hampshire Journal poll taken last week found Granite Staters opposed the Build Back Better bill 45-52 percent. And they opposed specific proposals in the legislation, like the state and local tax (SALT) deduction benefitting high-end earners in high-tax states, even more.
On Wednesday, a new Fox Business poll was released showing 46 percent of Americans believe the Build Back Better plan will drive inflation higher, while just 21 percent said it would help lower it. And 42 percent said the bill would hurt the economy while just 36 percent of respondents said it would help.
With numbers like that, would it be better for the bill to die before Hassan’s forced to vote for it? The consensus is no, that doing nothing hurts Democrats with their progressive base, and that will hurt them most on Election Day.
“Ultimately, it hurts,” said Wayne Lesperance, political scientist and Provost at New England College. “Democratic incumbents need legislative successes to build their campaigns around. They ran as the party of grown-ups who would get things done. There’s very little for them to show in support of those claims.”
Another political insider who asked to remain anonymous also called it bad news. “It saves Hassan and the Democrats from themselves, but progressives will be outraged. The party will need the progressive base’s energy next year.”
Democratic insiders say they believe what’s really hurting the Democratic Party’s polls is the public bickering and division. The infighting is driving down enthusiasm and making it easier for progressive Democrats to stay home next November. Weeks of watching President Biden begging Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) to back his bill sends a message that he’s a weak president and his party’s divided. It’s hurting the party across the board.
“They need to go into a room, lock the door, work out a deal and then send up the white smoke like they do at the Vatican,” one Democrat said.
And then there’s the Democrats’ Donald Trump problem. He’s not on the ballot to drive up turnout. In 2018, the Trump presidency sent Democrats flocking to the polls. Who’s going to do that in 2022?
Democratic and Republican strategist agree: It’s not Joe Biden.