Democrats are starting to build their 2022 case, provided the BBB will fail

“I do not think any of us expect anything else to pass,” said Colin Strother, a Democratic agent and veteran of house campaigns in Texas. Strother said the party in Washington has “overwhelmed, underachieved and undersold” its successes so far. “It has left our opponents brave, or supporters depressed, and our prospects for 2022 are bleak, if not gloomy. So we have a lot of work to do to dig out of this… We’d better have some golden shitty shovels.”

Democrats bet the public would reward them for getting on the Build Back Better agenda quickly. Many individual topics enjoy strong public support, including proposals to cut health insurance premiums and extend an ambitious extension of the child tax deduction, which was already designed as a tax cut for the middle class. Perhaps the most potent element, people close to the White House argue, would be the ability of Democrats to burn Republicans to protect corporations from paying higher taxes to help fund the plans.

But their ambitions fell sharply at the end of last year, when Sen. Joe Manchin (DW.Va.) announced that he could not support the recent repetition of the bill. With legislation faltering and the White House revolving around voting rights, campaigns outline narrative arcs around their past accomplishments and how Republicans prevented further progress. Stan Greenberg, the experienced Democratic pollster, stressed that losing the big bill could significantly increase the difficulty for Biden’s party in an already challenging political environment.

“It’s going to be a lot harder if you talk about what the Republicans have cut off instead of what you’ve delivered,” said Greenberg, one of the few officials POLITICO spoke to who still believes the Democrats could adopt something – even a slimmed down law on social spending. – through Congress in the next few months. “If this thing just disappears, you really have a very different definition of choice,” he said.

White House officials insist they are far from giving up on adopting the comprehensive climate and social spending package, and say negotiations are continuing between staff and a wide range of key lawmakers. The plan and the two-part infrastructure law have seen ups and downs and demanded that the work be done while the noise was reduced, “said White House spokesman Andrew Bates.

On Thursday night, Biden himself hosted Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, the centrist Democrats who are stopping his domestic agenda, primarily to discuss voting rights measures. But dismay over even more gridlock is already taking hold on Capitol Hill, where Democrats for months have been frustrated with their colleagues for standing in the way.

“We need to work on Plan B right now, and Plan B would be what we do if Build Back Better falls completely apart,” the rep said. Susan Wild (D-Pa.), Who represents a battlefield district and urges Democrats to focus on legislation that could come out of the larger package, citing health care and home care as a starting point. “I do not want to see us get into a situation where we are trying to promote individual bills, which honestly have no chance of success. It’s the same as banging your head against a wall. ”

Democrats overseeing house races across the country said that while officials would continue to proclaim their push for Build Back Better in the short term, they soon expected to go more fully over to focus on what they have delivered. They plan to lean into the adoption of a massive infrastructure bill and the Covid aid package, framing it as helping save the economy from the depths of the pandemic.

“We need to take the performance of this administration and ensure that the American people see, hear and feel them. We can not dwell on what we have not done,” said Bradley Beychok, co-founder and senior adviser to the Democratic Super PAC. American Bridge. “If we do, we’ll have a very tough midterm period.”

The preparatory work being done for a campaign season without the passage of the BBB on the ballot paper is the latest indication that Democrats believe legislative action may never get back on track. It also underscores how little time is left for Democrats to make their sales speech to voters. There are fears among Democrats that they will have to start announcing their victories before voters’ views on Biden and Congress really start to get tougher.

In Nevada, Democratic Senator Catherine Cortez Masto is rolling out a re-election effort that party officials say will largely remain intact no matter what happens to the bill on climate and domestic spending. The senator plans to focus heavily on the Democrats’ work to revive the economy, turn high unemployment under Covid and protect the state’s travel and tourism industry. On the infrastructure front, she points to nuts-and-bolts actions such as securing money for a drought-fighting facility that serves hundreds of thousands of people in southern Nevada.

“There is so much that can be promoted locally that we need to start doing. It’s started, but it could be a whole year, ”said Martha McKenna, the Democratic advertising maker, referring to all the projects that will receive funding from the $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill passed last fall. “We should be able to have press events and draw attention to [the bill], both from a physical infrastructure point of view, but also in relation to creating jobs. ”

In Arizona, Democratic Senator Mark Kelly is trying to proclaim his bipartisan credentials by pointing to the cost of infrastructure, forest fires and water in his state, along with dozens of bills he has written and co-sponsored with Republicans. Kelly also focuses on vaccinations and puts on a face shield to give her constituents the finishing touch.

But the more localized focus may end up being overshadowed by one the resurgence of the Covid-19 pandemic, rising costs of groceries and goods, stubborn malaise over the direction of the country, and historical trends that greatly demand the party in power. And others see early signs of potential problems, even as prices fall and the virus stops spreading so fast – that Americans feel snake-bitten by last summer’s wave and are not entirely convinced that things will not go south again.

A high-profile failure to pass Build Back Better – along with an inability to move voting rights and police reform legislation – could further oppress Democratic voters, who generally lose confidence in the president at a time when he desperately needs them to show up.

Asked if his party would face negative consequences in the election if the key provisions of the climate and social spending bill are not passed, Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) Said Democrats would have to formulate “a strong message for voters “regardless. Durbin put his finger on persistent Republican irreconcilability over most of Biden’s agenda, allowing Democrats to simply play their strongest hand after falling.

“We will not be able to deliver everything we wanted,” Durbin said.

The breakdown of Build Back Better can also complicate the administration’s efforts to combat inflation, if one is to believe their own arguments. For months, Biden and White House top officials have pointed to economists who claim that Build Back Better would help reduce inflation – not increase it – as skeptics, including Manchin, have argued.

On the other hand, the administration’s accelerated steps to counter inflation are facing overwhelming doubts among voters, who appear in democratic polls and focus groups for House and Senate races that the government is best placed to offset price increases.

This leads some in the party to conclude that if the Democrats adopt a scaled-down, targeted version of the climate and consumption bill, they could ultimately have Manchin to thank for boiling it down to the most popular elements.

Without this push really materializing, there is now more incentive to focus on infrastructure and optimistic wallet issues such as growing jobs and wages, said Jeffrey Pollock, a Democratic pollster.

“There are lots of results to talk about,” he said. “Especially from a congressional perspective, we need to have an economic argument against the voters that says we have made a difference and that we can make a difference in their lives.

“Build Back Better would be nice – it would be nice to talk about a number of things that are in there,” Pollock added. “Nice, but not necessary for success.”

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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