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Democrats, keep your eye on the prize: getting things done

House Democrats
Greg Nash
House Democrats are seen following the 11th vote for Speaker on the third day of the 118th session of Congress on Jan. 5, 2023.

The high from a successful midterm election for Democrats feels like a vague and distant memory. After defying history with one of the four best midterms for a party controlling the White House in the last century, we have settled into our new lives under divided government. And it ain’t pretty.

While the intense GOP infighting over Kevin McCarthy’s nomination to be Speaker of the House was entertaining at first, it quickly turned into deep anxiety. As McCarthy (R-Calif.) continued to make deals to garner support from resistant Republicans and it became increasingly clear that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) had made her way from political outcast to powerful insider, the outlook for the next two years became less celebratory and more “ugh.”

The foolish games over whether Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) should serve on the Foreign Relations Committee (she’s been voted off) and the Chinese spy balloon that some Republicans turned into a symbol of President Biden’s weakness (three balloons reportedly flew over the U.S. during the Trump administration) are exhausting and petty.

But Democrats can’t be deterred from continuing to build on the successes of the first two years of Biden’s presidency. As the president laid out in his State of the Union speech, there is much to celebrate. And though the odds of passing huge bills like the American Rescue Plan Act and Inflation Reduction Act are pretty much nil without Democratic control of the House, when you consider the bipartisan successes in infrastructure, gun reform and semiconductor production, there’s a lot of promise for continuing to improve the lives of everyday Americans.

Top of the list, for us, includes protecting the Inflation Reduction Act, voting rights, abortion access, and immigration reform.

Fresh off tremendous economic numbers, where we gained 517,000 jobs, unemployment fell to the lowest level since 1969, GDP grew at 2.9 percent, and inflation is moving in the right direction — though we aren’t out of the woods yet — it’s clear that the Biden plan is working. A central plank of his agenda is the Inflation Reduction Act, which tackles some of our central challenges such as health care costs, our unfair tax code, and climate change. Policies like capping out-of-pocket costs for prescription drugs for older adults and the price of insulin, as well as implementing a 15 percent minimum tax for corporations that make over $1 billion annually, seem like no-brainers, but Republicans are on the warpath to cut domestic spending in debt ceiling negotiations and float fiscally irresponsible programs like the Fair Tax Act, which would impose a 30 percent national sales tax and eliminate most other taxes.

Just as the GOP spent years expending energy by going after the Affordable Care Act, we must similarly protect the Inflation Reduction Act. Its positive implications will be felt across all 50 states and, at the same time, Republicans will be relentless in their attacks by surely voting down elements in the House. This legislation will be thought of as “landmark” for decades to come and Democrats must be focused on preserving it.

Democrats have been talking about a voting rights bill for years. From the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to the Freedom to Vote Act to the new combination mega-bill, Democrats have staked out the ground that they are the party of expanded access to the ballot box (both in person and by mail), broadening what can be used as voter ID, publicly financing campaigns and banning dark money, and ending partisan gerrymandering. The newest iteration of the bill is based on proposals that moderate Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has accepted. While abolishing the filibuster to enshrine voting rights remains out of reach, Democrats have been more successful garnering bipartisan support for important programs than in previous administrations. We have to keep at it.

If there was one major takeaway from Democrats’ incredible midterms performance it was that the issue of access to reproductive health care played an outsized role. Conservative states batted down referendums that would’ve banned abortion and students flocked to the polls to protect their rights. At the same time, and to our benefit, Republicans seemingly have learned nothing. Since taking control of the House, the GOP has passed a bill that would subject some doctors who perform abortions to prosecution, and Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) spoke the “quiet part” out loud: “It’s not just about making abortion illegal in the country. I would tell you I’m working on making abortion unthinkable.”

Though Roe v. Wade isn’t coming back — and it would be nice to know who leaked the Dobbs v. Jackson decision — Democrats have a responsibility to keep fighting for women’s health care by ensuring that every state has a referendum on the issue, help women who are denied access, and work with Republicans who would be willing to create a nationwide law that offers at least some protections. It isn’t ideal, but it’s the best we can hope for, considering the conservative makeup of the Supreme Court.

There’s a new important issue for Americans: immigration. NBC News finds that immigration reform tops the list of what Americans want Congress to tackle, with 80 percent supporting a pathway to citizenship for undocumented migrants who meet certain standards and 72 percent wanting lawmakers to increase border security. The good news is, there is a solution in the works. A bipartisan bill by Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Kyrsten Sinema (I-Ariz.) expired in 2022 with the 117th Congress, but will be revived. The framework includes measures to increase border security, creates a pathway to citizenship for “Dreamers” and alters the asylum system. It’s an excellent starting point. Will the end result be perfect? It’s doubtful. But the situation at the border and for Dreamers is dire. Democrats should embrace what is possible.

Divided government in these hyper-partisan times isn’t what it used to be. But the GOP is working with the slimmest of majorities — plus, it feels like it’s only a matter of time until Rep. George Santos (R-N.Y.) is forced out — and an unruly caucus. The policies Democrats support are broadly popular. It’ll take work, but they can get it done.

Jessica Tarlov is head of research at Bustle Digital Group and a Fox News contributor. She earned her Ph.D. at the London School of Economics in political science. Follow her on Twitter @JessicaTarlov.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

Tags 118th Congress Biden Biden presidency Democratic Party Ilhan Omar Immigration Inflation Reduction Act James Lankford Kevin McCarthy Marjorie Taylor Greene

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