The United States Senate worked until 6 AM Eastern Time on Wednesday, dealing with budget reconciliation in hours after passing a landmark bipartisan infrastructure package. Nineteen Republicans, including Mitch McConnell, voted aye on infrastructure, but the Party of Trump promptly – and likely permanently – returned to partisan bluster in a matter of seconds.
The face of Senator Patty Murray has popped up on my Twitter feed, touting the Senate’s accomplishments and asking for money.
Senator Maria Cantwell has fired off a series of releases. She has long championed the causes of improved broadband access and upgrading the nation’s electrical grid. The infrastructure package devotes resources to both.
The cheering will not last long. Progressive and partially conservative Democrats are split on how quickly to approve infrastructure. The Republicans are directing their fire at the priorities included in the budget reconciliation process.
In political boilerplate – he knows no other language – House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy intoned: “Democrats are determined to make life worse by passing a $3.5 trillion socialist spending binge that will crush families, dismantle our economy and reshape our country in the worst possible way.”
Don’t scoff. The Democrats’ combined Jobs & Families Plan does well in polls when people are told what’s in it. What a lot of voters know about it, however, are two things: first, that it has a preliminary pricetag of $3.5 trillion, which will undoubtedly be framed by deficit scolds as a dizzying number, and second, that it has been crafted to appeal to the left wing of the Democratic Party. Its chief advocate is Senate Budget Committee Chair Bernie Sanders.
If successful in driving home these points, Republicans would gain a boost in their efforts to retake control of Congress from Democrats in 2022.
There is precedent: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, enacted eleven years ago, which Republicans ferociously assailed using a pejorative crafted to fire up their voters and diminish Democratic enthusiasm.
The act has gained popularity as time has gone on, especially when Republicans tried to repeal it (and replace it with nothing, contrary to their campaign rhetoric) but it was a juicy target in a 2010 midterm election where Democrats took — in Barack Obama’s words — “a shellacking” — and lost control of the House.
Remember Sarah Palin warning of “death panels”?
Democrats did not “sell” the law, here or anywhere else. There was a big celebration for party faithful down at the Boeing Aerospace Machinists’ hall, but not much more. I witnessed provisions of the Patient Protection Act kick in to help folks on Whidbey Island, who had a negative opinion of the law.
Curiously, on the night of House passage, I heard on a cell phone call what Democrats should have been saying. U.S. Representative Jim McDermott had been Congress’ highest profile advocate for single-payer healthcare.
On the phone, he explained why he as a progressive supported the new law. The Patient Protection Act wasn’t what he wanted, but it went part of the way. It would insure at least twenty million Americans. When asked, he explained what the PPA would do for gals at the dog grooming shop, the waitpersons at Neil’s Clover Patch. He predicted that Washington would soon expand Medicaid.
The message I heard from McDermott was never fully articulated to the voters.
A decade later, Republicans seem poised to again deploy “Boo, socialism!” arguments first deployed when Medicare was being passed in 1964.
Such serial liars as Newt Gingrich and Ted Cruz will alternate between appearances on Hannity and The Ingraham Angle.
(In early hours of Wednesday, Cruz raised an objection, blocking Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s bid to bring voting rights legislation to the floor.)
Republicans are already going after President Biden’s targeted extension of the eviction moratorium. After Trump, they have the gall to accuse the 46th President of exceeding his authority. Expect to see causes like early learning and student debt relief demonized, and climate damage denied despite maps of heat warnings and scenes of wildfires on the networks’ morning news shows.
Already, as this is written, comes news that a Republican front, the American Action Network, is spending $150,000 to attack Representative Kim Schrier, D‑Washington, on the $3.5 trillion budget proposal. She represents a swing district, in Republican hands for thirty-six years before Schrier captured it in 2018.
The response? As Senator Murray’s email blasts so often put it: “Fight back.”
Murray, who was so instrumental in drafting the child tax credit, would be an ideal figure to get a promotional campaign going, and keep it going.
She’s up next year, and will likely be opposed by Tiffany Smiley.
Murray needs to shake off the protective cocoon that easily envelops a veteran U.S. senator and hit the road to make the case for these investments.
A half century ago, a prescient Senator Henry Jackson was delivering long, detailed speeches about dangers of U.S. dependence on foreign oil.
He was right. Cantwell holds Jackson’s old seat in the Senate. She has been warning about the power grid – warnings borne out during the deep freeze in Texas – and the lack of a fire-fighting strategy as climate damage wreaks havoc across the West. The infrastructure bill comes through on both counts.
Hers is a voice that needs to be heard — and not just on the Senate floor.
Many on the progressive left of the Democratic Party did not warm to Joe Biden in 2020. Some groups remain a suspicious, demanding presence in the Democratic coalition. I detect a lack of appreciation. How come?
Biden is a guy who thinks big. The American Rescue Plan was far more ambitious than the Obama-era American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“I’ve been waiting fifteen years for a Democratic politician to effectively sell progressive economic policy as pro-growth: Biden is the first to be able to do so,” Seattle entrepreneur Nick Hanauer wrote Wednesday.
The late Representative Morris Udall, D‑Arizona, once told a Democratic Convention: “When we Democrats form a firing squad, we form it in a circle.”
Still true. An amazing amount of sniping takes place within the ranks, so much as to distract attention from what’s been accomplished in half a year.
The right wing media machine howled when the April jobs report came out, reporting a less-than-expected 269,000 new jobs. The noise machine was conveniently silent this week, when 943,000 new jobs were reported in July.
“Infrastructure” has been a buzzword in Washington, D.C. for fifteen years. Republican senators, with needs in their states, were smoked out this year to put it together. Notice, as NPI’s most recent of installment of Last Week In Congress reported, that Idaho’s ultraconservative Senators Jim Risch and Mike Crapo voted in favor of considering the bipartisan plan. They voted yes on final passage, too.
Remember words spoken two years ago by the ineffable Kevin McCarthy: “Our nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, and there are bipartisan solutions on the table. But what are Washington Democrats doing about it? Nada.”
Parts of the Biden agenda remain blocked, notably full restoration of the Voting Rights Act. Unless a few Democratic senators can be persuaded to change course, the filibuster is likely to remain in place, no matter what progressive leaders (including our Governor) say about it. Denounce Senator Joe Manchin, D‑West Virginia, and you only increase his popularity. Throw up your hands at Senator Kristen Sinema, D‑Arizona, but remember she is the first Democratic senator to win a Senate election in the Grand Canyon State since 1988.
The 2022 election campaign is already underway. Will squabbling between progressives and partial progressives allow its agenda to be defined by the right?
The ceding of power to House Republicans, excusers and enablers of the January 6th insurrection at the United States Capitol, would do lasting damage to the Republic. It would also do lasting damage to the planet.