Well, we finally got Infrastructure Week. Now it’s time to go out and sell it to the people so they know what the heck is in it and then get on with the rest of the agenda in Washington. That’s where we focus today before some tidbits.
(cover photo cred: Robert Schmidt / AFP)
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Biden Better Get Busy!
So, last week was a big week for President Biden, but the stakes are still enormous as we head into the remainder of the year. As a reminder, the jobs report was positive, though that's not how most individuals tend to judge either the economy or their personal economic outlook. And, most importantly, the President will soon sign the bipartisan infrastructure framework. Now, reconciliation takes center stage, and if you weren't used to the sort of slowish pace of negotiations and thinking this was taking too long, the only thing I can tell you is: get comfortable.
I think that the biggest impetus for moving this process along late last week was President Biden's involvement at a very granular level. That's not to say that he hasn't been involved in these negotiations. But I think what happened in the end was he pushed both sides to understand they were going to get something, but not everything. He pushed them to put aside their differences, and to somewhat ameliorate the distrust that had been going on between both sides and move them to the bipartisan agreement that passed as well as the procedural vote on considering the Build Back Better plan. So, if this is going to happen in the Senate, Biden's got to, again, be very, very involved. He can't watch the two sides discuss and debate as if he was a member of the Senate. He's got to work as a President and that is understanding the contours of what can get through Congress and pushing each side to accept it. That's the only way this is going to happen.
No doubt; there was definitely a big gear shift by the White House. Biden got involved and they unclogged things. Though nothing lubricates a Legislative party like awful election results. But now, landing the Spend-a-thon Bill in the Senate will be very much in Biden’s wheelhouse. He's done it before as a Senator. He actually has a relationship with Leader McConnell. The Big Problem for Biden to avoid is the “Back to the Future” scenario where he gets a deal with Manchin (Washington’s Biggest Winner in all this BTW) and “Silent” Sinema only to face a second Prog revolt when the bill heads to the House for final passage. Since the Progs cannot hold up the BIP anymore, the party’s situation has become perilous, my guess is calmer heads will prevail. That said, six Democrat Progs voted NO on the BIP, so….
There's now no way to avoid this not coming back to the House. And this is where Biden has to get involved because we know there are parts of what is likely to pass the House in the next couple of weeks in the House bill that are not going to survive the Senate. Right now, the second biggest expenditure in the Build Back Better plan is state and local tax assistance that will mostly benefit the wealthy. The House wants to add back paid leave. So, this has a few more turns. It won’t necessarily be fun, but Biden’s the only one who can do this as the leader of the party and the President.
But Gibbsie, that’s the best part of the bill!!! I mean where will the Dem donor class in CA, MA and NY/NJ be without it!?! (The SALT deduction being the one huge tax break for millionaires that the Democratic party seems to really, really love.) But you’re right, the SALT tax break is fish food for the Progs and there will be other squabbles over the policy priorities of the Spend-a-thon. So the President faces sort of a three-sided negotiating table in the Senate; unite the Dems there while holding the House Progs in line. Tricky, but possible. And after VA I think the Dems are wisely moving into a circle the wagons mode and are tired of drama.
Yup, either way, this is going to take some time. The SALT provision is an example of what you have to do sometimes to get a group of votes so something can pass. But it’s likely to get scaled back some and rightfully so. What remains of this process is likely to be frustrating to a lot of people watching it on the news or reading about it. But needless to say, get comfortable, it's going to take a minute.
How about I start off our tidbits, Gibbsie, with this question: what's the current Democratic bedwetting scale? 8? 9? Or down to 7?
Nothing cures anxiety like a good jobs report foreshadowing optimism on the economic side and the actual advent of infrastructure week (parade to ensue!). I think the scale is probably a 6 or so. The challenges going forward are twofold. History doesn't look kindly on the party in power during midterm elections. That's just the way it's going to be. And that was true in 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018. The only time in recent memory that was different was 2002 and that was because September 11 had just happened. The other thing also to be mindful of is the lessons of 1966, 1982 and 2010. The passage of big legislation, be it Medicare in the Great Society from LBJ, a big tax cut from Ronald Reagan or a health care safety net from Barack Obama didn't result in winning that year’s off year congressional election. So, if the Democrats are going to buck history, and at least salvage the Senate, it's going to require both passing the big legislation, but also making sure people understand it and feel it in their everyday lives. It has to be more than Cabinet members doing press events. Some real paid advertising needs to happen to put this more front and center with the American people.
Pennsylvania is one of my old political stomping grounds so I’ve been keeping an eye on it. With Sen. Pat Toomey retiring, the Keystone state should be a prime Democratic pick up. But as increasingly usual in both parties, the Dems have a complicated primary situation (which we wrote about a few newsletters ago.) Now the action is heating up on the GOP side. Democrats had been happy that until the iceberg called Virginia struck, beating the likely GOP Senate candidate in Pennsylvania would be just too easy for them; the perfect sort of self-defeating Trumpist knucklehead who runs around campaigning with the hanger still in his suit. Victory looked easy. But now, there is hope for a more viable GOP candidate as Repubs (Mitch on line one) have found an impressive business guy with money and brains. His name is David McCormick and his resume is world-class: West Point, Princeton, Gulf War, McKinsey, then two real economic jobs in the Bush administration, and recently, a business career at the top of a huge hedge fund. The questions are: 1.) Can McCormick perform as a candidate (smart guys from the top of the real world sometimes have trouble adapting to the corny dinner theater realities of the modern campaign) and 2.) Can he muscle through the grim bizzarro land of a modern GOP primary? I’m sure clever McCormick has the hot-off-the-presses Glenn Youngkin campaign primer firmly in hand and a closet full of new fleece vests. Unlike VA’s Governor elect, however, McCormick would face an actual GOP primary and you can bet the Orange Menace will smell a crafty Mitch McConnell plot here to actually hold the PA seat, so of course he may decide his Mitch hate is the priority and dive into the primary and try to muck it all up for McCormick. My guess is McCormick (who is close to Trump PA fixer David Urban) follows chapter one of his new Youngkin primer and will suck up to Trump for a while, then pivot away. It could work if Biden’s numbers stay weak. But we’ll see… McCormick has not announced he’s actually running, but the fact that he’s looking seriously at the race has given Republican leaders in PA and DC new hope.
For my tidbit, there have been a couple big articles this past week about Democrats and rural voters. Two things that happen with some regularity one, Democrats do poorly with rural voters and these stories pop up. And secondly, we have disagreements in the party, not dissimilar to what we’ve watched on reconciliation, about whether it's important to think about moderate swing voters that are less affiliated with the Democratic Party, or to focus mostly on the base.
But if you look at the calculus of how the Youngkin campaign approached winning statewide in Virginia, they realized that if they ran up the score in rural Virginia, it meant they didn't have to win the suburbs and the rest of the votes by as much, they just had to do better than in the past few elections. They made the road to victory doable. For Democrats, if we continue to cede too much ground in rural America, it means we have to run up crazy margins in the rest of the state or District and that puts a lot of pressure on campaigns to be successful. But, also, we can't give up on races in those areas because you know there are only so many congressional districts that you can draw in an urban center or in a suburban area, and we can't afford to walk away from congressional seats or state legislative fights in rural America.
We’ll be back on Friday with more! Until then, have a great week.
Murphy and Gibbs