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What Democrats need to do to avoid self-destruction


After weeks of unfruitful intraparty infighting over their agenda, it has become clear that the Democratic Party is headed down a self-destructive path. 

President Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure bill is still being held hostage by progressives, who have threatened to kill the bipartisan agreement if it’s brought to a vote before the party finalizes their expansive social spending package, also known as the ‘Build Back Better’ plan. 

However, it seems highly unlikely that moderates — namely, Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) — will come together with progressives on a framework for the Build Back Better plan. At this point, it actually seems more likely that Manchin and Sinema will be driven from the party.

Negotiations hit a new impasse this week when Sinema made clear that she would not vote to raise taxes on high-income earners or corporations to pay for the bill. 

In a CNN townhall, Biden acknowledged that talks were faltering: “[Sinema] will not raise a single penny in taxes on the corporate side and/or on wealthy people, period,” Biden said. “And so that’s where it sort of breaks down.”

Enough is enough. There is simply no good reason for Democrats to continue down the ill-fated path of pushing for this so-called ‘transformational’ legislation when there is no political will, support or consensus surrounding it.

Instead, Biden and Democratic leaders need to convey to members of both parties that their first priority going forward will be passing the president’s historic bipartisan infrastructure bill in order to urgently repair and modernize our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

Then, rather than pushing for a $2-trillion or $3-trillion-dollar social spending bill — which both progressives and moderates have problems with, and no Republicans support — the party should move forward with each initiative separately. 

How, given the circumstances, should Democratic party leaders move forward with a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill? 

Dare progressives to vote against it. Call their bluff. And if they oppose it, attack them directly. 

Even if some progressives still decide to vote ‘no’ on the bipartisan agreement as a result, it is not out of the question that more Republicans will be moved to vote ‘yes’ on to the bipartisan bill, given that it would no longer be tied to a massive social spending bill that every single congressional Republican opposes.

The approach I have suggested is both in line with and in part inspired by the one New York Times’ Bret Stephens outlined in his recent editorial, in which he called for Democrats to: “disaggregate the spending bill into separate items of legislation that could be voted on à la carte, according to their merits and political appeal.” 

Indeed, once the bipartisan bill has passed, then, Democratic leaders should move forward with each initiative in the Build Back Better plan separately. This would mean forcing a simple, separate yes or no vote on each policy or area within the larger package — paid family leave, the child tax credit, prescription drug pricing and climate initiatives, to name a few.

This way, the onus is on the Republicans and the various fighting wings in the party to compromise issue-by-issue on policies that voters can understand.

Comparatively, if Democrats continue on with their current approach to the Build Back Better agenda, there are only two possible outcomes, neither of which will leave the party in a stronger position.

If by some unlikely turn of events, Democrats are able to reach an agreement on a reconciliation package, it is inevitable that neither progressives nor moderates will be completely happy with it. Further, no Republicans will vote for it. The end result will be a multi-trillion-dollar expenditure that progressives don’t think went far enough, moderates feel went too far, and Republicans stood in uniform opposition to.

Or, more likely, negotiations will drag on, no deal will be reached, and President Biden will be left with very little to show for legislatively entering a midterm election year. And you can count on voters taking their frustration over the dysfunction in Washington to the ballot box in November 2022.

Of course, the approach I’ve outlined could fail in part or in all when it comes to securing the passage of legislation. However, Biden — whose national approval rating is underwater, especially among Independent voters — and Democratic leaders will at least be perceived as being closer to the center, and as standing up for what’s right in the face of obstruction from the far-right and far-left.

If nothing else, this approach will at least change the national narrative. It will no longer appear to voters as though President Biden and the entire Democratic party are ineffective and blameworthy. Rather, voters will place any blame squarely on the far-left, as well as the far-right, for impeding progress.

A final word to my fellow Democrats:

We don’t need massive spending and taxation initiatives. We don’t need inflation-fueling policies. 

We do need a limited and focused amount of government that delivers targeted, practical economic and social policies.

It is time to rise above petty politics and deliver for the American people.

If Democrats cannot rise above the challenges of intramural party politics, they are almost certain to be brought down by their real adversaries in the form of Donald Trump and his supporters seeking political revenge in the 2022 midterm and 2024 presidential elections.

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 author of, “The End of Democracy? Russia and China on the Rise and America in Retreat.”

Tags Build Back Better plan Democratic Party Donald Trump Joe Biden Joe Biden Joe Manchin Joe Manchin Kyrsten Sinema Kyrsten Sinema Members of the United States Congress Michael Bloomberg Presidency of Joe Biden United States Senators

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