Democrats try to regroup heading into rough November
Democrats are trying to regroup as they head toward November with their biggest legislative priority stalled and polls showing that voters are in a sour mood.
Democrats spent months on a failed voting rights effort and have effectively put Build Back Better on the back burner. At the same time, they are heading toward a midterm election, which is historically bad for the party in charge, with their majority in jeopardy.
Democrats, led by a group of senators who are facing tough reelection battles, are homing in on cost-cutting ideas that could struggle to pass in the Senate but would let them sharpen their differences with Republicans before November.
“That’s the big difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to lowering people’s costs. We have real answers. They don’t. They just attack,” said Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), previewing the party’s message.
“We are focused on getting costs down, and you’re going to see a lot of activity in March from us on that issue,” he added.
Senate Democrats pitched ideas during a closed-door caucus lunch this week about where they should focus their efforts, including suspending the gas tax, a suspension of the state sales tax or trying to lower prescription drug costs. They’re also expected to hear from White House chief of staff Ron Klain during a closed-door lunch on Thursday about President Biden’s priorities for the rest of the year.
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Schumer’s No. 2, said that Democrats “need a credible, simple approach that American families understand.”
“We want to help these families make ends meet but we don’t want to make inflation worse. We’ve got to come up with a plan that addresses that,” Durbin said.
The move to focus on lowering costs comes as Americans are facing record high inflation, a frequent GOP talking point that they are making a central part of their bid to win back the majority.
Inflation hit 7.5 percent in January, more than a 40-year high. Americans are also still facing supply chain issues, and Democratic governors are rolling back coronavirus restrictions as they face an exhausted constituent base.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) noted that there were positive economic signs, including wage growth and a bounce back in jobs from the height of the pandemic, but that Democrats were trying to target inflation.
“Three good economic trends—job growth, GDP growth, and wage growth—one tough economic trend, inflation, we got to keep the three going in the right direction and target the one that isn’t. I think there’s some very good strategies that can enable us to make an impact,” Kaine said.
Twenty-seven percent of Americans view inflation as the most urgent issue currently facing the country, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. That includes 32 percent of independent voters.
Seventy one percent also told a Pew Research Center poll that strengthening the economy should be a top priority for 2022, with dealing with healthcare costs and dealing with the coronavirus outbreak coming in second and third place at 61 percent and 60 percent.
Schumer vowed that he would bring the bills as they come together to the Senate floor.
“Not everyone will agree with each idea, but there’ll be large buy-in. …And you’ll see some votes on the floor on these as well,” Schumer said.
The decision to go for smaller bills comes as there’s been some angst over the agenda.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the Budget Committee chairman, has warned that the party needs to make a “course correction” and urged Schumer to hold stand-alone votes.
“I think it’s no great secret that for five months with the exception of the infrastructure bill, we have not been addressing the needs of the American people,” Sanders told reporters.
Republicans panned the Democratic plan — the details of which are still being negotiated by the caucus — as a pivot meant to try to appease voters heading into the midterms.
“Democrats made a very noticeable pivot. ….All the sudden they’re starting to talk about inflation so evidently they have looked at some polling data,” said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the No. 2 Senate Republican.
And some of the ideas are being pushed by Senate Democrats who are in tough reelection races.
Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), who is viewed as a top target by Republicans, is looking at a sales tax holiday.
Warnock and Democratic Sens. Mark Kelly (Ariz.), Maggie Hassan (N.H.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.)—who are each up for reelection in 2022—as well as Sens. Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) and Jacky Rosen (Nev.) introduced legislation to suspend the approximately 18-cents-per-gallon gas tax until the start of 2023.
Kelly, Warnock and Cortez Masto are all in tossup races, according to rankings by the Cook Political Report. Hassan’s race is ranked as lean Democratic.
Democrats have faced warnings from members of their own party, namely Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), after the latest inflation numbers.
But Democrats are also arguing that Democrats have done little to fight inflation, including blocking some of Biden’s Federal Reserve nominees.
“Hell that’s these guys talking points every day. Look I’m concerned about inflation too but give us the tools to do it unless you want to see inflation go up,” Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) said about Republicans.
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