Why Democrats are regaining momentum

Joe Biden
AP Photo/Susan Walsh
President Joe Biden hands the pen he used to sign the Democrats’ landmark climate change and health care bill to Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2022.

This summer, high temperature records were shattered across the United States; wildfires burned millions of acres from Oklahoma to Alaska; droughts ravaged Western states, and floods devastated Appalachia. These disasters contributed to a sense of urgency that helped Democrats pass a boatload of bills, including the most sweeping climate change legislation in American history. In the run up to the midterm elections they have regained some momentum.

And the contrast with Congressional Republicans on policies and priorities could not be more stark.

Republicans have blocked consideration of voting rights, childcare tax credits and restrictions on purchases of assault weapons. They have offered no proposals to spur economic growth or reduce inflation. Republicans have made irresponsible and inflammatory claims that the legally authorized search for top secret and classified documents at Mar-a-Lago was a “military occupation,” conducted by “rogue” FBI agents, who “planted” evidence. They have advocated the impeachment of Attorney General Merrick Garland and defunding the FBI. They continue to undermine our democracy by spreading the lie of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

Meanwhile, despite a 50-50 split in the Senate and a slim majority in the House, Democrats are enacting legislation Americans want and need:

The Chips and Science Act allocates more than $50 billion for research and production of semi-conductors, which are essential to (among many other products) cars, weapons, washing machines and video games. This investment will reduce America’s dependence on China and increase the U.S. share of the world market from 2 to 10 percent. The Chips Act complements the $1 trillion Infrastructure Bill, signed by President Biden in November 2021, which allocates funds to repair or replace roads, bridges, rail systems, airports, and hazardous water pipes, increase access to broadband internet, and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

The Promise to Address Comprehensive Toxics (PACT) Act is the largest expansion of health care and disability benefits for veterans of the armed services (deployed in Vietnam, the first Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan) in more than 50 years. PACT grants preemptive benefits to claims of respiratory illness and cancers related to exposure to burn pits and other toxins, 70 percent of which were denied between 2007 and 2020. The legislation, which was held up by Republicans, could affect millions of veterans.

Passed without a single Republican vote in the Senate or the House, the Inflation Reduction Act is a massive climate, health, and tax bill. The legislation’s energy initiatives (including subsidies for electric cars) are expected to reduce carbon emissions in the United States by 40 percent in 2030. The bill reduces insurance costs in the Affordable Care Act; empowers Medicare to negotiate the prices of 100 prescription drugs over the next ten years; and caps out-of-pocket prescription drug costs at $2,000 a year for each Medicare recipient. The legislation levies a 15 percent minimum tax on the nation’s largest corporations and a 1 percent tax on stock buybacks. The whole package will reduce the deficit by about $300 billion.

This summer Democrats also discovered the political potency of support for reproductive rights. When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, Donald Trump declared (with uncharacteristic modesty), “God made the decision.” The ruling “will work out for everybody,” the former president added. Mike Pence said, “We must not rest and will not relent until abortion is banned through the United States.” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told reporters he would support a nationwide ban on abortion. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), had already indicated that Congress “certainly could legislate in that area;” nor was it a “secret where Senate Republicans stand.”

House Democrats quickly passed bills ensuring the right of pregnant women to travel across state lines to get abortions and protecting health care professionals who provide abortions and patients who obtain them from civil or criminal penalties. Not surprisingly, given the filibuster, the Senate did not even consider the House bills.

That said, the turnout and landslide vote of Kansans against amending the state constitution to allow their legislature to ban abortions strongly suggests that Democrats are energized on an issue that previously brought conservative, evangelical Republicans to the polls.

In the 2022 midterms, the issues and the legislative record seem to favor the Democrats. That said, as long as a large percentage of Americans do not approve of the president’s performance in office, remain deeply concerned about inflation, and give credence to culture war canards about immigration, race, and sexual identity, retaining control of the House and Senate is unlikely.

But the odds are better, maybe even a lot better, than they were a few months ago.

Glenn C. Altschuler is the Thomas and Dorothy Litwin Professor of American Studies at Cornell University. He is the co-author (with Stuart Blumin) of “Rude Republic: Americans and Their Politics in the Nineteenth Century.”

Tags 2022 midterm elections abortion rights American industry American technology Biden Biden agenda CHIPS and Science Act Climate change policy Corporate tax Culture Wars Democratic agenda Democrats Donald Trump Energy policy of the United States Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 infrastructure bill Joe Biden Kansas abortion vote Kevin McCarthy Merrick Garland Mitch McConnell momentum PACT Act prescription drug prices Roe v. Wade semiconductor chips Semiconductor industry Veterans Veterans health

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