NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Wednesday, August 11th, 2021

Will Democrats unite to defend good deeds of the Biden-Harris administration, or snipe while Republicans fire their guns?

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.

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