Two ways Democrats can turn the tide with voters

Associated Press/David Goldman
In this Oct. 29, 2020, photo, voters line up as the doors open to the Election Center for absentee early voting for the general election in Sterling Heights, Mich.

By all indications, Democrats are on track to lose a historic number of U.S. House seats in November. 

Based on four key national mood indicators, Democrats are worse off in 2022 than they were in 1994 and 2010 — the two worst midterm election years for the party in recent history, when they lost 53 and 63 seats respectively, per Gallup.

Indeed, President Biden’s approval rating is lower than both Obama’s and Clinton’s at the same points in their presidency, and Americans in 2022 are less satisfied with the way things are going in the country, more negative about the state of the economy and more disapproving of Congress.

While Democrats likely won’t be able to reverse their political fortunes before November, the party can significantly cut their losses by pursuing achievable, bipartisan legislative wins that address voters’ main quality-of-life concerns — the most notable of which are the economy and rising prices.

Contrary to popular belief, bipartisan compromise is in fact attainable, even in today’s hyper-polarized political climate. After years of gun safety legislation being a non-starter for Republicans, this week, the Senate passed a bipartisan gun control bill in light of the string of recent mass shootings around the country, especially last month in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary School.

The Senate’s bill has effectively isolated some of the most popular gun control policies among voters in both parties — as at least three-quarters of Americans support expanding background checks, creating “red flag laws,” and raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21, per recent polling by Fox News

Even though this legislation is not as comprehensive as Democrats were hoping for, the bill represents a major step forward on an issue where gridlock has persisted for decades, and ultimately proves that both parties can work together to enact important change when reform has wide-ranging public support.

To be sure, concern about the economy and rising prices is even more widespread than concern about gun violence, which has made this issue Democrats’ greatest political vulnerability in the midterms.  

In just the last few weeks, inflation hit a 41-year-high, the average price for a gallon of gas reached $5, and stocks entered a bear market. Voters are struggling with higher prices every day, and fair or not, will take out their economic frustrations on Democrats in November — as 64 percent of Americans find President Biden’s policies to be responsible for the drastic rise in inflation, according to a recent I&I/TIPP poll.

Given the unlikelihood that prices stabilize before the midterms, Democrats need to notch one or two bipartisan wins on reforms that result in direct savings for Americans.

Advancing legislation to lower the cost of prescription drugs clearly fits the bill. Americans — especially seniors and those with chronic conditions — are feeling the financial strain of high prescription drug costs now more than ever.

While pursuing drug pricing policy changes gives Democrats an opportunity to realize a meaningful legislative win before November, reforms must be done correctly — not the way that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and the bipartisan Senate HELP Committee are approaching this issue.

The foreign drug imports policy proposed by Sanders is an illogical solution to the problem at hand. Most nations do not hold their drug and food manufacturers to the same standards as we do in the U.S. with our own Food and Drug Administration, and opening up trade between the U.S. and international pharmaceuticals poses an unnecessary risk to American patients.

Alternatively, a specific, safe, and popular reform that Democrats can lead the way on is a $35 insulin cap. Passing legislation that caps insulin at an affordable level is an achievable undertaking that would cut costs for millions of Americans with diabetes and would show voters that the Democratic Party is working to alleviate their financial burden.

In that same vein, Democrats can also pursue pharmacy benefit manager reforms, which would reduce costs for millions of Americans by delivering the benefits of rebates directly to the patients, not middlemen — i.e., pharmacy benefit managers — or pharmacies. Americans would be able to purchase their prescriptions and medicines straight from the supplier, thus eliminating markups or unnecessary price hikes by pharmacies and insurance companies.

This commonsense approach to drug pricing policy is currently being deployed in the private sector. Billionaire Mark Cuban’s latest business endeavor is an online pharmacy that offers more than one hundred generic drugs at affordable prices by cutting out the middlemen in drug pricing.

Notably, if Republicans do oppose either measure — the insulin cap or pharmacy benefit manager reforms — these representatives would be forced to go on record voting against it, which would enable Democrats to weaponize the issue against the G.O.P. in the midterms.

Similar to Sanders’ drug pricing proposal, it would also be a mistake for Democrats to make massive student loan relief a core facet of their economic approach. Instead, the party should turn its focus to true economic engines and begin promoting the job training programs outlined in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.

In doing so, Democrats can stimulate the economy amid record-high inflation, soaring gas prices, and a looming recession. Advanced job training programs that bring the workforce into the 21st century is the right type of countercyclical policy that sets up the economy generally — and working and middle-class people specifically — for success.

By pursuing bipartisan reforms that will reduce drug prices in a responsible way and focusing on realizing the promise of last year’s infrastructure bill vis-à-vis high-skilled job creation, Democrats can demonstrably improve their prospects in the midterm elections.

Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to former President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the author of “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

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