But if things go well for Democrats in coming months, they might soon have a good rebuttal at the ready: They, and not Republicans, are the ones truly helping to bring ordinary Americans’ costs down.
This possibility flows from the massive infrastructure and jobs package that Democrats are trying to push through Congress. If it passes, it could have a real impact on Americans’ child care and health care costs, and it will come after Democrats already passed a massive rescue bill that’s already putting more money directly into the pockets of millions.
It is not broadly understood just how big a set of achievements Democrats could have to run on in 2022 if they can pass the new package. It’s a constant snarky meme on Twitter that “LOL just a thought, but Dems should pass big, popular policies that help people and run on them.” But if this package passes, they will be doing exactly that.
In a new piece, CNN’s Ron Brownstein puts this into historical perspective. As Brownstein notes, the new package — which would total more than $4 trillion, funded by corporate tax hikes — would put the federal government in the position of pumping more into public investment as a share of GDP than at just about any other time since World War II.
Brownstein reports that Democrats will campaign in the midterms on these policies. But note how they’re preparing to do so:
“If we go into this election cycle and our agenda is delivering tax cuts for middle-class parents, delivering jobs through investment in infrastructure and delivering lower health care costs,” says David Bergstein, communications director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, “we have a package that appeals both to those swing voters, some voters who have more of a conservative bent and to our base as well.”
The “tax cuts for middle class parents” are a reference to the child tax credit that was in the initial rescue bill, which is now resulting in monthly checks going to most American parents and is already being hailed as groundbreaking policy. Passing the reconciliation bill would extend this.
The jobs-through-infrastructure is the hundreds of billions of dollars that would go to roads, bridges and other “hard” infrastructure. And the “lower health care costs” are policies in the reconciliation package that would enhance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act and expand Medicare.
The Democratic strategist quoted above is not wrong to note that this could have cross-ideological resonance. The child tax credit might appeal to more conservative voters, since child allowances have some centrist and even populist conservative pedigrees. Health care subsidies might appeal to independents. All the “human” infrastructure in the bill might appeal to Democratic base constituencies.
Obviously there is a long way to go. The Senate will vote this week to move to debate on a bipartisan “hard” infrastructure package with $579 billion in new spending. That may still fall to a GOP filibuster, given that it will need 10 Republican senators.
Meanwhile, Senate Democrats still don’t have all 50 votes lined up for the initial framework setting a $3.5 trillion target for the reconciliation bill. They will likely find them, but they will then have to fill in the details, an extraordinarily complex task. They’ll need 50 Democrats to pass that, too, and need to walk it on a tightrope through the House, with moderates balking.
But it may actually happen. Whether the bipartisan bill passes — if it doesn’t, the hard infrastructure will get folded into the reconciliation bill — by this fall, Democrats could pass $4 trillion in new spending, on top of the $2 trillion in relief funding. And many of these policies will be geared toward bringing down people’s costs.
So how will the GOP campaign to make the midterms all about inflation fare in the face of this?
Obviously other things can go wrong for Democrats. There might be serious implementation challenges, particularly on the child tax credit, as Binyamin Applebaum details. The White House continues to say inflationary signs are rooted in the challenge of restarting the economy from a deep freeze and will soon pass, but that could prove wrong.
Meanwhile, the slowdown in vaccinations could mean a covid-19 resurgence, which could seriously cramp the recovery. Republicans are also running on a barrage of cultural appeals — from critical race theory to crime — and they might be able to win the House largely by juicing their base and letting extreme gerrymanders do the rest.
But we might be about to see the ultimate Democratic kitchen table campaign put to the test. Remember, Democrats improbably won two Senate seats in Georgia largely by saying that if you elect them, you’ll get shots and you’ll get financial help. If things go right for Democrats, they could pull off a rerun, albeit on a grander scale.