The prospects of the Democrats holding the House and Senate after the 2022 elections are universally judged to be slimand since last weeks elections, slim is putting it mildly.
But just how slim depends on the Democrats enacting the Build Back Better bill, whose gestation period is already setting records, and taking the Republicans to task for opposing its particulars and those of the infrastructure bill that Congress enacted last week. It also depends on a host of other factorsthe state of the economy and the pandemic a year from now, the Republicans nominating Larry Elder types in next years primaries, and so onover which Democrats effectively have no control. What the Democrats can control is their messaging on the broadly popular particulars theyll have enacted if they pass both of the Biden economic agenda billsin particular, Republicans lockstep opposition to some particular particulars, like lowering drug prices, making child care affordable, and filling potholes. The only other election-related factor they can control is passing the voting rights bill that would curtail Republicans gerrymandering, voter suppression laws, and legislation to enable legislatures to overturn election results. That, of course, requires them to persuade the DINOmic (thats Democrats in Name Only) duo of Manchin and Sinema to suspend the filibuster when the voting rights bill is brought to the Senate floor.
That, however, is not an issue of messaging, nor are we at all confident that M&S can be persuaded that voting rights are more fundamental to American democracy than the preservation of the filibuster. Attacking Republicans for their opposition to reforms that are highly popular across the political spectrum, however, is well within the Democrats capacity.
To date, both the White House and congressional Democrats have largely proved incapable of highlighting just how their legislation meets profound public needs. Republicans (and the DINO opponents of the BBB bill) have focused almost solely on the legislations price tag, while Democrats have largely failed to disaggregate its would-be-popular-if-anybody-knew-about-them particulars. With the single exception of Bernie Sanders, whose emphasis on possible Medicare expansions and drug price savings does seem to have broken through, no Democrat has effectively pushed a particular provision into the public consciousness. (Wholly apart from the substance of his politicswhich I completely supportSanders is something of a genius at messaging.)
Once the Democrats enact the Build Back Better bill (which we have to hope isnt winnowed to a bare husk), it will be easier for Democrats to reach the Sanders standard, which should constitute half of their messaging. The other half will be relentless attacking of Republicans for opposing the bills particulars. And, I suspect, it will be easier to do this on the Build Back Better bill than it will on the infrastructure bill, because some of the BBBs provisions will be up and running in public view before the bridge and airport and even road improvements that the infrastructure bill will enable. The days of the New Deals public-works projectschiefly, the WPAputting millions of Americans to work within weeks are long gone. Most of those Americans literally wielded picks and shovels; todays construction requires more skills and longer preparation times than that of the 1930s.
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Some parts of the Build Back Better bill will also take years to get going. The establishment of universal pre-kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds will take school districts some years to put in place. Other parts of the bill, thoughlowering the cap on what seniors must pay for drugs to $2,000, the Child Tax Credit, and public provision to make child care affordablecan be activated more quickly. They have to be if the Democrats are to have an effective message in 2022 and, for that matter, 2024.
Speaker Pelosi, whose credentials as a savvy pol are beyond dispute, understands all this. She already has highlighted a message that House Republicans tweeted out, opposing the infrastructure bill as socialism, before they thought better of it:
Republicans will doubtless hammer home their culture-war polemics in forthcoming electionspolemics that Democrats seldom manage to successfully rebut. Right now, however, their failure to win the culture wars seems to be the giant looming over all the election forecasts for 2022. Like John Paul Jones, however, they have not yet begun to fight on their own turftheir support for, and Republicans opposition to, some very concrete necessities that they will have provided the electorate. Right now, theyre down, but the count is nowhere near ten.