Battling over Biden’s agenda: A tale of two Democratic parties
As Democratic infighting intensified over the fate of the party’s agenda this past week, it became increasingly apparent that there are two conflicting approaches to governing within the party.
The first approach focuses on class-based politics, on the redistribution of wealth as a viable economic model, and on economic disruption for disruption’s sake. This proposition — which is both politically and practically flawed — has become notably more prominent in the party, as congressional progressives clearly wield considerable influence over the Democrats’ legislative agenda. Indeed, progressives in Congress delayed the vote on President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill twice this week — and continue to threaten to kill the bill if moderates don’t make a reconciliation counteroffer that is robust enough by their standards.
The second approach centers on unity, on greater fiscal responsibility and on growing the economy for all, while at the same time supporting businesses. Without question, this method of governing embodies what the future direction of the Democratic Party should look like. Yet, it appears that only a small fraction of party members is now guided by this approach.
That said, while this posture has regrettably become less prevalent in Democratic politics, moderates like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — along with a handful of moderate House Democrats — have been ostensibly working to keep it alive.
To that end, Sen. Manchin said on Thursday that he favored a social spending bill that would cost no more than $1.5 trillion — still a massive expenditure, though far less than the $3.5 trillion that progressives demand. Manchin enumerated several reasonable policies that he could support in such a bill, which include lowering drug prices, raising taxes on the wealthy where necessary, expanding pre-K, health care, clean energy, and child tax credits. Many of these priorities closely align with those of progressive Democrats. But, unlike their proposal, the type of expenditure backed by Manchin would be far more targeted, less inflationary and likely more effective at achieving some of the left’s goals.
In other words, Manchin’s proposal represents a compromise — which is perhaps an unfamiliar concept to progressives, who have made clear that they won’t acquiesce on the bipartisan bill if the reconciliation package is lower than $3.5 trillion.
As progressives’ influence over the party’s agenda grows, it has become increasingly obvious what direction the Democratic Party is headed: toward embracing redistributive economic policies that stifle growth, drive up the price of consumer goods and increase inflation in other areas as well.
To that end, the party’s establishment leaders — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) — seemingly took a backseat for most of the week as progressives like Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) pulled the strings on the Biden agenda, holding the bipartisan infrastructure bill hostage until a suitable framework for the Democrats’ social spending initiative was agreed upon.
Ultimately, the party’s embrace of such massive tax-and-spend initiatives, without a clear vision for how these policies actually would benefit Americans, is both impractical and politically unwise.
Pursuant to this approach, the national Democratic Party’s message has grown increasingly negative, partisan and exclusionary. In a recent column for The Hill, I wrote about how this messaging failure puts Democratic candidates in a politically perilous position ahead of the 2022 midterms.
To that end, the party would be wise to consider the approach of Eric Adams, the Democratic nominee for New York City mayor, who is heavily favored to win the November general election. Adams’s vision for New York promises to bring the city into a new era — an era defined by pro-growth, pro-business, and pro-public safety policies. The Democratic nominee has implicitly vowed a change from the left-leaning reactionary politics of the current administration led by Mayor Bill DeBlasio (D). DeBlasio is decidedly to the left of Adams, and his approach to governing — which, in many ways, has left the city worse off — has been defined by anti-business and anti-police policies.
“New York will no longer be anti-business,” Adams declared last month at SALT New York, an annual gathering of finance, technology and geopolitical leaders. He later emphasized that “the prerequisite to prosperity is safety,” and promised to “create an environment of growth” in New York.
Simply put, Adams in many ways embodies the posture that national Democrats need to assume ahead of next year’s midterms.
The party needs to curb the influence of a group whose approach to governance is centered on class-based political warfare and on excessive taxation and spending without regard for whether the means justify the ends. Further, Democrats need to find a way to come together on a number of pressing issues, namely, extending the debt ceiling as soon as possible to maintain financial stability and security.
If they do not, Democrats will isolate themselves and their agenda from the broader electorate — making the party’s loss of power in 2022 and 2024 a forgone conclusion.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political consultant who served as an adviser to President Clinton and to the 2020 presidential campaign of Michael Bloomberg. He is the co-author of a forthcoming book “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”
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