Democrats fret over Biden spending

A number of Democrats are beginning to fret over President Biden’s big spending proposals, worrying the steep price tag could cost the party in the 2022 midterm elections.

While liberal Democrats are cheering Biden on, moderates say the $4.1 trillion in infrastructure and social spending, coming after the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief measure, could hurt their efforts to hold the House next year.

“I can see the ads now. ‘Joe Biden the $6 trillion dollar man,’ ” said one Democratic strategist. “Most Americans want the government to work but spending $6 trillion doesn’t make political sense.”

“Democrats are like kids being given the keys to the candy store right now,” said another Democratic strategist. “We have all this candy, and we’ll worry about the stomach ache later.”

The two proposals are a $2.3 trillion infrastructure measure focused on creating jobs that would provide funding to rebuild roads, bridges and highways, as well as money for broadband, housing and manufacturing; and a $1.8 trillion plan focused on education, child care and other issues.

Biden and Democrats have held talks with Republicans in the Senate on a smaller infrastructure package, with GOP senators offering a proposal under $600 billion.

To go big, Democrats will likely have to go it alone, using special budget rules in the Senate to avoid a filibuster, and convincing moderates such as Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) to back the plan.

Strategists understand that Biden and many Democrats want to enact meaningful policy change as the party holds control of the White House and Congress. But they are worried the spending plans could create easy targets for the GOP, and question whether Democrats are shooting themselves in the foot in terms of holding their slim majorities next year.

“I’m struggling with what their end game is,” one strategist added. “They may be thinking, ‘We’re going to lose the midterms anyway.’ ” 

Another Democratic strategist agreed that there are some “nervous” Democrats who wonder about the political ramifications of the spending proposals.

“I’m not sure this has been thought through and effectively communicated,” the strategist said.

A number of lawmakers themselves have raised reservations.

Manchin last week told reporters he was becoming “very uncomfortable” with the cost of Biden’s agenda.

“It’s a lot of money, a lot of money,” said Manchin, who opposes ending the Senate filibuster, which requires 60 votes to pass most legislation. Manchin represents a state that was easily won by former President Trump.

“Are we going to be able to be competitive and be able to pay for what we need in the country? We got to figure out what our needs are and maybe make some adjustments,” he said, adding that he doesn’t know how much debt the country should add. “We’re at $28.2 trillion now, debt, so you have to be very careful. There’s a balance to be had here.”

Manchin’s dissatisfaction with the proposals could cause the White House some heartburn since the party only holds 50 seats in the Senate.

If Democrats decide to pursue budget reconciliation to pass Biden’s agenda, they will not be able to afford a single defection. Every Senate Republican voted against the COVID-19 relief measure this year, even though it included $1,400 direct payments for millions of households.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) has echoed Manchin’s sentiments about the price tag.

“It’s got to be paid for. It’s just a question of who pays,” King told Politico last month. “Are we going to pay or our kids going to pay?”

Biden is pushing his legislative agenda with some momentum.

His approval ratings remain above 50 percent in most polls as he moves past the first 100 days in office marked by a largely successful vaccination effort. That has also sparked optimism about the direction of the U.S. economy, which has already been turbocharged by stimulus spending.

On Monday, a Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll showed that 59 percent of voters say they approve of Biden’s job in office while 33 percent of those surveyed said they “strongly approved” of Biden’s presidency so far. Twenty-six percent said they “somewhat approve.”

Thirty-eight percent said they disapproved of Biden’s job in office, with 29 percent of those surveyed saying they “strongly disapproved.”

Regardless of the polls, administration officials and allies close to the White House say they realize they are under pressure to get legislation passed as quickly as possible.

Democratic strategist Joel Payne said he understands the anxiety some Democrats feel when it comes to Biden’s spending proposals.

“Unlike the first big push of the Biden administration around COVID stimulus relief, the latest effort does not have clear timing and has a less predictable legislative path,” Payne said. “So, it’s natural that you might have Democrats fret over that. Any opportunity to allow Republicans to co-opt or hijack the issue is going to cause anxiety.

“But overall, most Democrats I talk to have a lot of confidence in the Biden operation and feel good about the prospects of doing something big on infrastructure,” he said.

Some Democrats are dismissive about the worrying by moderates.

“If it wasn’t for the fact that we are Democrats no one should have anything to complain about,” said strategist Eddie Vale.

Biden has proposed raising taxes on the wealthiest households, corporations and capital gains to pay for some of his proposals, something Vale said that Democrats should not fret over.

“They are starting with a bill that is incredibly popular, including good chunks of Republican voters and local elected officials, and keeps getting more popular as they explain it to people. And that includes paying for it with raising taxes on the rich and big corporations, which is the thing Republican voters agree with the most,” he said. “The only people who should be worried about the price tag are any Democrats who built a time machine and have sent themselves back to 1996 or Republicans in competitive states or districts who are going to vote against another massively popular bill.”

But not all Democrats feel that way.

“Biden has made himself the poster child of tax and spend liberals,” the first Democratic strategist said. “And when people sit down and realize what’s going on, there’s going to be a real problem.”

Tags Angus King Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema
See all Hill.TV See all Video