Reviews | The Democrats have bigger problems than the team
The milquetoast policy of moderate and conservative Democrats in Congress is backfiring on the party and threatening its grip on power ahead of the midterm elections.
Earlier last year, after President Biden signed his Covid relief bill into law, the White House worked with congressional leaders to develop a strategy for the rest of the president’s agenda. The project was simple. Democrats would work on two bills – an infrastructure package and a social policy package – which they would pass together. Progressive Democrats, who needed moderates to pass their bill, would support the infrastructure plan. And moderate Democrats, who needed progressives in turn, would support the social policy plan.
Both bills were moving through Congress until, over the summer, several members of the Bipartisan Problem-Solvers Caucus threatened to derail the social policy package unless the House voted immediately on the infrastructure bill, which had been negotiated and passed by the Democrats. and Republicans in the Senate.
“Some have suggested we suspend consideration of the Senate infrastructure bill for months – until the reconciliation process is complete,” reads a letter from Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey. and other like-minded Democrats in the House. “We disagree. With the livelihoods of hard-working American families at stake, we simply cannot afford months of unnecessary delays and risk wasting this one-of-a-kind bipartisan infrastructure package. .
Ironically, it was that letter — and similar statements from Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona — that abruptly halted the Democratic Party’s momentum. Democrats would spend the next three months negotiating the two-track process and struggling to meet shifting demands from moderates and conservatives on the substance of the social policy bill.
The immediate effect of this split within the Democratic Party was to undermine President Biden, whose popularity was already on the decline. He took a hit from the withdrawal from Afghanistan, another from the ongoing pandemic and yet another from the chaos and division in Washington.
If there was one goal in mind among moderates and conservatives who froze the Democratic Party agenda, it was to push their priorities through legislation while distancing themselves from their progressive colleagues. Instead, what happened was that they weakened Democrats across the board as candidates struggled to overcome a sense of failure that had set in within the party. Terry McAuliffe, the moderate former governor of Virginia, could not overcome this obstacle. In November, he lost his bid for a second (non-consecutive) term to Glenn Youngkin, a conservative Republican.
In the wake of that defeat, moderate and conservative Democrats in Congress demanded that the House pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill, so the party would have something to brag about on the campaign trail. After making concession after concession in a bid to secure votes for the president’s social policy package, Progressives have now agreed to end the two-track process and hold a vote on the infrastructure bill.
The House voted and the bill passed. The moderates had their victory. But rather than go on the offensive, infrastructure spending in hand, they remained silent. There would be no publicity blitz, no attempt to capture the nation’s attention with a campaign to sell the achievements of moderation, no attempt to elevate members who could shine in the spotlight, and certainly no serious attempt to push back against the political cultural right that helped Republicans win a victory in Virginia.
Neither have moderate and conservative Democrats attempted to design their own agenda. Instead, they used their remaining political capital to kill off the most popular items on the Democratic Party’s wish list, from tax hikes on the wealthiest Americans and a minimum wage hike to a control plan. prescription drug prices. They couldn’t even bother to save the new Child Tax Credit, one of the most effective anti-poverty measures since at least the Great Society. Its expiration in December pushed millions of children below the poverty line.
Now, having immobilized the president’s agenda and thrown their party into disarray, those same Democrats are looking for a culprit. Unsurprisingly, they settled on their progressive colleagues. Mike Allen of Axios, summarizing the view of “top Democrats”, writes that “the drive to defund the police, rename schools and tear down statues has created a significant obstacle for Democrats to retain control of the House, Senate and overall party image. ”
Groups aligned with moderate and conservative Democrats, such as the centrist advocacy organization Third Way, insist that “squad politics” is the central problem of the Democratic Party. And despite inconclusive evidence that it had a big impact on the 2020 election, some Democrats continue to criticize the activist slogan “defund the police” for the party’s current woes.
It may not be a bad faith attempt to pass the buck if it fails. You could be forgiven, however, for thinking it looks like one.
Specifically, it appears that moderate and conservative Democrats are doing all they can to hide the fact that under their leadership and on their agenda, the Democratic Party has failed and cannot get back on track. They sense an explosion in November and would rather play the blame game than do anything concrete to regain the ground they helped lose. Their refusal to pass popular economic legislation or fight the cultural battles of the moment has left them with only one option: to find a scapegoat.
In which case, these moderate and conservative Democrats (and their allies) would do well to look in the mirror. No one forced them to derail the president’s agenda, bog the party down in petty infighting, or take a defensive, defensive approach to the Republican Party. They sowed their seeds; now is the time for them to reap the rewards.