Manchin bailed Biden out on Build Back Better
The progressive meltdown over the failure to pass Build Back Better (BBB) is truly something to behold. How anyone thought Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was ever going to swallow the vast grab-bag of progressive demands is almost beyond belief. There are few things worse in the world that having ones’ fervent delusions punctured — even if it’s for the better.
And Manchin sinking BBB was a political gift to President Biden and the Democrats. But in their fury, the Democratic Party and the activist left are determined to take their revenge on Manchin and immolate themselves in the process.
What Democrats are unwilling to see is the fact that BBB is not as popular as the top-line polling suggests and that there are much more pressing issues to focus on.
If you just looked at the basic polling on BBB, you would assume it is a political winner and should pass without too much difficulty — and failure to pass would be a problem for recalcitrant Republicans. The most recent Morning Consult poll has support at 50 percent in favor and 37 percent opposed. Marist polls BBB favorably at 41 percent to 34 percent. Provisions within BBB are also viewed favorably, including affordable housing funding, negotiating prescriptions drug prices and expansion of Medicare services. Such provisions enjoy support ranging from 53 percent to 75 percent approval.
The only way unanimous GOP opposition and the loss of Manchin’s vote (not to mention Arizona Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema’s waffling) can be explained is if there is more going on. And there is.
BBB is not operating in a vacuum. Biden is trying to push forward his program in the context of falling confidence in his job performance (particularly his leadership capabilities), rising and sustained inflation, a surge in coronavirus infections, and concerns about the budget deficit. And Biden wants to push through the $1.75 trillion BBB right on the back of a $1 trillion infrastructure bill.
According to Morning Consult, economic matters — including inflation — are the top concern for the public. The economy is the main concern, polling at 42 percent, with security issues (terrorism) next at 15 percent. Health care is at 11 percent, while energy and environment (major focuses of BBB) is down at 5 percent. Fully 90 percent are very (60 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) concerned about inflation. As for policy priorities, cutting the deficit is a top priority (48 percent) or “important” (33 percent) for a total of 81 percent. Only recovering from the pandemic polls higher.
In addition, the polling does not mention the various unpleasant surprises in the bill, such as new energy taxes, a big subsidy for “local journalism,” or the failed attempt at temporary amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants — all items not likely to be popular with the public.
Put it together and it’s clear those who tout the BBB polling numbers are often guilty of a common bit of chicanery in politics: They are using numbers in isolation and not considering voters’ overall priorities. There are plenty of policy proposals that poll well but are either not important to voters or are drowned out by bigger concerns.
And Biden’s own numbers are not helping. His net approval has been underwater since the Afghanistan debacle, with his RealClearPolitics approval average at 44 percent approve to 52 percent disapprove — with some recent poor numbers from Rasmussen (41 percent to 58 percent) and Marist (42 percent to 55 percent). Even worse, all his underlying numbers are negative.
In the recent YouGov benchmark, which has a slight Democratic tilt, Biden’s job approval is at 41 percent approve and 50 percent disapprove. His best numbers are in dealing with the pandemic, where he is only down 43 percent to 46 percent. His worst is foreign policy, where he is down 39 percent to 48 percent.
Even worse for Biden is the question of whether he is a strong leader. This is Biden’s worst metric of all, with 59 percent considering Biden “very” or “somewhat” weak against only 40 percent saying he is “very” or “somewhat” strong. Biden is down with independents 63 percent to 27 percent. Importantly, the YouGov poll confirms concerns about inflation with 43 percent considering inflation a top priority and 42 percent considering inflation and unemployment equal in priority, yet only 8 percent put unemployment ahead of inflation.
Biden’s weak polling numbers and a worsening issue environment with respect to inflation and challenges surrounding the new omicron strain of the novel coronavirus is causing BBB to plunge in importance for voters. It would be a logical inference that voters think Biden and the Democrats got enough with the $1 trillion infrastructure bill (56 percent support in Marist). Loading up more deficit spending in an inflationary environment is a tough sell.
The smart play for Democrats would be to take the win and separate out a few of the most popular BBB provisions in clean bills without the various special favors and pork that normally pollute legislation (and that are pervasive in BBB). But there is little prospect of that.
The Democrats — and progressives in particular — have worked themselves into such a lather over BBB they are psychologically unable to take a rational view. When you start declaring democracy dead because you can’t get your multitrillion-dollar wish list jammed through a 50-50 Senate, you have lost all perspective.
The progressive wing of the Democratic Party seems bound and determined to drive Manchin out of the party. If he switches to independent and caucuses with Republicans, the Democrats will not only lose control of the legislative agenda, they will have done so purely out of spite.
Going into the midterms, the Democrats’ problem is not former President Trump, Senate Republicans, Manchin or losing BBB. The Democrats’ problem is their own suicidal tendencies, which will be on full display throughout 2022.
Keith Naughton, Ph.D., is co-founder of Silent Majority Strategies, a public and regulatory affairs consulting firm. Naughton is a former Pennsylvania political campaign consultant. Follow him on Twitter @KNaughton711.
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