The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Moderate House Democrats urge leaders to focus on economic issues amid worries voters blame party for inflation, supply chain problems

President Biden delivers remarks regarding his administration’s work to strengthen the nation’s supply chains in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on Wednesday.
President Biden delivers remarks regarding his administration’s work to strengthen the nation’s supply chains in the South Court Auditorium at the White House on Wednesday. (Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)

The House Democrats at most risk of losing their seats in the 2022 midterm elections are pressuring congressional leaders to focus early next year on economic issues such as controlling inflation and addressing supply chain disruptions amid concerns the party is losing ground with voters who are worried about rising costs and skeptical the economic recovery will continue.

Some of these lawmakers have expressed concern that the House has taken too many votes this year on bills that have no chance of passing the Senate, such as changes to the immigration system and gun laws, that are also not popular in their swing districts.

In a new letter addressed to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.), 22 moderate Democrats, including 16 on the National Republican Congressional Committee’s target list, wrote that while the recently enacted infrastructure bill and the legislation being negotiated now that would provide funding for expanding child care and education programs — known as Build Back Better — will help win over voters, more needs to be done to address their concerns about the economy.

“We urge additional action by the House of Representatives to further address the disruptions and higher costs our constituents are experiencing,” the lawmakers wrote. “These costs of underinvestment are currently being felt by our constituents, and this Congress must take this issue seriously and act.”

Biden sees gains in supply chain battle, but the fight isn’t over

The letter underscores the anxiety among Democrats that Republicans have the upper hand heading into the midterms and could win control of the House with big margins. Republicans have hammered Democrats and President Biden over inflation, saying it is the result of their spending policies, and have argued they aren’t doing enough to deal with the supply chain problems that have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, causing some products to be in short supply.

Biden and Democratic leaders have charged that Republicans are exaggerating the problems for political gain, arguing inflation is due, in part, to the economy recovering from the pandemic and that wages are on the rise as unemployment levels drop.

In a speech Wednesday, Biden said that supply chain issues contributing to delayed deliveries would remain a short-term problem, placing the blame on news reports for overhyping the lack of stocked up shelves in toy stores ahead of the holidays.

But here’s the deal for the vast majority of the country, that’s not what’s happening because of the actions the administration has taken in partnership with business and labor retailers and grocery stores, freight movers and railroads,” he said. “And those shelves are going to be stocked.”

But those reassurances have not calmed the nerves of House Democrats facing tough reelection contests.

“I would say we‘re doing a lot right now, there’s a heck of a lot we could be doing immediately with bills,” Rep. Cindy Axne (D-Iowa), who led the letter alongside Reps. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) and Susie Lee (D-Nev.), said in an interview. “I can’t tell you how many great pieces of legislation based on common sense issues that we produce that just don’t make it to the table. And it’s a shame.”

What’s in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law

But the lawmakers who sent the letter didn’t specify which pieces of legislation should be taken up first early next year, and it’s unclear how much Congress could do to combat inflation in the short-term. They did highlight some issues that should receive attention, such as overhauling shipping regulations to make it easier for U.S. farmers and manufacturers to sell their products abroad and lower the age for people eligible to be long distance truckers from 21 to 18 to help with the current driver shortage.

The moderates are also focused on bipartisan legislation that passed the Senate earlier this year with a goal to make the United States more competitive with China through increased funding for research and development and building up the United States’ manufacturing capability.

The bill has been stalled in the House as various committees mull changes to the Senate package.

But Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced last month that the two chambers would soon begin negotiating over the bill in hopes of striking a deal soon. To expedite the process, Pelosi has invited the chairs of the relevant committees to meet with her Thursday afternoon to discuss their priorities for the bill. If the Senate passed bill is changed too much, however, it could lose Republican support and doom its chances of becoming law.

As Biden agenda advances in Congress, White House weighs new offensive on inflation

Democrats are hoping as the country continues to return to a more normal state as the pandemic wanes, the economy will continue to get stronger and they will get credit for the rebound from voters. Public opinion polls show that, so far, Biden and Democrats are not getting credit for the improvements, which some Democrats contend reflects the poor job the party has done on selling its agenda to voters, such as the $2 trillion pandemic relief bill enacted earlier this year.

“I think there are three jewels in the crown that we need to get done. One was the infrastructure bill. The second one is a refined and more focused Build Back Better, which we have. And the third is the United States Innovation and Competition Act,” Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Ga.), who signed the letter, said referring to the Senate’s China competition bill. “I‘m going to frame it as, in this bill, we are making long overdue investments in our community. These are problems we should have tackled 20 or 30 years ago, but we are getting to it now.”

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