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At the White House

Democrats not only have to pass their social spending package. They also have to sell it.

The hard sell: Democrats are coming closer to a rough idea of the policies that will make it into their massive child care, health care and climate change bill. But they still need to sell it to voters, which means figuring out how to define it beyond its nearly $2 trillion price tag.

Sens. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) still haven’t endorsed even the tentative framework that President Biden announced last week. But that hasn't stopped the White House and its allies from trying to convey the benefits to voters.

Cabinet secretaries and other administration officials have done more than two dozen interviews since Biden announced the framework on Thursday in markets such as Atlanta, Detroit and Des Moines, Iowa. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, for instance, talked up the bill's funding for transmission lines that could carry power from new wind turbines on farms in an appearance on the ABC affiliate in Rapid City, S.D.

Administration officials have started referring to the bill in conversations with lawmakers and allies as an investment in “climate, care and kids," according to a White House official. And outside groups are preparing efforts to tout the bill’s benefits if it passes.

“We are ready and waiting for the moment that we can run ads thanking members of Congress for voting for clean energy and tackling climate change,” Lori Lodes, the executive director of the advocacy group Climate Power, said in an interview.

Ads aplenty

Plenty of ads have already aired.

Climate Power and the League of Conservation Voters have already spent more than $40 million on TV and digital ads and other paid media. Building Back Together, an outside group supporting Biden’s agenda, has shelled out another $16 million.

Andrew Bates, a White House spokesman, said in a statement to The Early that the through line of the bipartisan infrastructure bill and Democrats' larger child care, health care and climate change package “is that they are about growing our economy in a way that delivers for the middle class, the backbone of our country, and not just those at the top."

But selling the latter bill while its specifics are still in flux has been a challenge. The narrator in one Building Back Together ad from September, for instance, talked up “two years of free college” — a reference to Biden’s plan to subsidize two years of free community college, which has since been dropped from the bill.

Much of the coverage of the spending package has focused on its initial price tag — $3.5 trillion — though the latest version is projected to cost barely half that.

“It’s hard because from the beginning it got defined by the number,” said Stan Greenberg, a longtime Democratic pollster.

Unsure what's in it

While the White House has pointed to polling showing that individual elements of the bill are popular, many Americans remain unclear on what’s in it — or even that a bill is being hashed out at all.

In a focus group of “surge voters” — those who voted in 2020 but didn’t vote in 2016 — conducted by liberal organizations on Monday evening, which The Early was allowed to observe on condition it didn’t identify the sponsors or the participants by name, only two of the five participants said they’d heard about the negotiations. One of the voters familiar with the bill said the issues he’d heard the most about were the fight over the cost and the climate change provisions.

Democrats are determined not to repeat the mistakes of the Obama administration, which Biden himself said failed to “take a victory lap” after passing the 2009 economic stimulus and “paid a price for it” in the 2010 midterms. They’re banking on voters feeling the impact of the social spending bill, once it gets done, to help limit any losses in next year’s midterm elections.

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), who narrowly won reelection last year even as former president Donald Trump carried his northeast Pennsylvania district, said in an interview that Democrats’ message should focus on “three simple things: more jobs, tax cuts for the middle class and lower costs for the kinds of things that keep people up at night,” such as child care.

The most effective way to sell the bill in districts like his is to make sure constituents start feeling the benefits as fast as possible, Cartwright said. One of the problems with the Affordable Care Act, he said, was that “it was really years before it got rolled out after it passed.”

“Until you start to see the benefits, all you talk about are the costs, right?” he added. “And we should strive mightily not to let that happen.”

On the Hill

We're back to Manchin watching

Slow your roll or not.: Manchin apparently wants some more time to get behind Biden's $1.75 trillion social spending bill. Progressives, meanwhile, are now raring to move full steam ahead this week and pass both the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the reconciliation package.

Manchin told Washington he wants to evaluate the impact the bill will have “on our national debt, our economy and the American people,” which certainly didn't allay fears among progressives that the bill will be scaled back even more. 

“Manchin’s statement immediately generated new uncertainty about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s plan to hold a vote this week on both of Biden’s long-sought economic packages. Liberal lawmakers have held firm in insisting that the chamber must vote on both bills in tandem, a position that some maintained despite the senator’s stern criticism,” our colleagues Tony Romm, Mike DeBonis and Marianna Sotomayor report. 

Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), the head of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, told CNN that liberals are nevertheless ready to “pass both bills in the next couple of days.” 

“Reacting to Manchin’s allegation that liberals had held the infrastructure bill ‘hostage,’ Jayapal dismissed the critiques, urged lawmakers to ‘keep tempers down’ and stressed that Democrats should trust that the president can ultimately deliver the 51 votes necessary to pass it in the Senate,” per Tony, Mike, and Marianna. 

Hmmm: White House press secretary Jen Psaki responded to Manchin's statement with optimism, “ … we remain confident that the plan will gain Senator Manchin’s support.”

Lingering issues: “Congressional Democrats are scrambling to work out a drug-price compromise that would cap seniors’ out-of-pocket costs for medicine and lower the price of insulin, with negotiators working through the weekend and Monday to convince key holdouts like" Sinema, our colleagues Rachel Roubein, Dan Diamond, Tony Romm and Amy Goldstein report. 

“The compromise, which would allow Medicare to negotiate some prescription drug prices but significantly scale back Democrats’ earlier ambitions, comes after the White House abandoned a drug-pricing initiative in its social-spending package last week after acknowledging it lacked the votes. That decision prompted a barrage of complaints from patient advocates and liberal Democrats, who argued the party was ditching a key promise to voters and setting itself up for disaster in next year’s midterm elections.” 

The Data

Virginia’s mercurial voting trends, visualized: “The last time Virginia voters selected a governor, a year after Donald Trump was elected president, Democrat Ralph Northam posted large margins in rapidly growing urban and suburban areas, netting a decisive victory over Republican Ed Gillespie,” our colleagues Daniela Santamariña and Zach Levitt report.

  • “It surpassed Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s narrower win over Ken Cuccinelli in 2013, which included smaller margins in Northern and Central Virginia and Hampton Roads.”
  • “Now, less than a year into the Biden presidency, Republican Glenn Youngkin is seeking to reverse the recent trend toward Democrats in one of America’s most contested states. The election is a return of tight races that have shifted the Commonwealth between blue and red since the 1950s.”
  • “In Virginia, off-year contests have tended to favor the party that does not hold the presidency. Since 1977, the state has voted with the current president’s political party only once.”

The Media

What we’re reading: 

Viral

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen met U2 frontman and Irish singer Bono in Dublin:

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