- When a new president is elected, the first midterm election is usually a loss for their party.
- The Democrats can easily avoid this by passing two popular bills.
- Failure to do so will net Republicans power after the midterms, and Biden's presidency will be moot.
- Carl Gibson is a freelance journalist and columnist from Kentucky.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
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If Congressional Democrats want to avoid the beatdown the party in power typically gets in almost every president's first midterm election, they have an easy path: Passing the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation bill before voting on a separate $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill.
Failing to pass the larger bill will not only mean a failure to appropriately respond to the economic fallout of the pandemic, but it will also make sure Democrats have very little to run on in 2022 to justify keeping their majorities.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-California) was barely able to hold off a rebellion within the Democratic caucus over the reconciliation bill. Last week, conservatives in the Democratic caucus like Reps. Josh Gottheimer (D-New Jersey), Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and Carolyn Bourdeaux (D-Georgia) threatened to vote against it, wanting instead to vote on the smaller bipartisan bill first. While the bipartisan bill cleared the Senate with 69 votes in favor, the reconciliation bill would need to be passed with all 50 Democrats on board and Vice President Kamala Harris casting the tie-breaking vote.
Pelosi ultimately succeeded in a party-line vote to allow the details of the larger spending bill to be written, clearing a major hurdle toward its passage. Even though she's so far committed to progressives' demands to first vote on the reconciliation bill before the bipartisan bill, she issued a deadline of September 27 to vote on the bipartisan package. This makes it possible for conservative Democrats like Sens. Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona), to run out the clock in negotiations on the reconciliation bill.
Pelosi even signaled that the House would not expend energy on "a bill that's not going to pass the Senate," which potentially gives Manchin and Sinema the green light to water down the reconciliation bill until it's much weaker.
Should the House pass the smaller bill before the larger bill, centrists in the House will have no incentive to vote for the larger bill, because centrists will have already gotten everything they wanted and leverage can no longer be applied. Given how slim the Democrats' House majority is, this could doom the reconciliation bill's chances of passage, and likewise, cost Democrats their majorities and effectively reduce President Biden to a mere veto pen.
This doesn't have to happen - the reconciliation bill is full of extremely popular policies that have broad approval among Americans of all political persuasions. One of the proposals outlined in the bill is finally allowing Medicare to negotiate the prices of prescription drugs, which a June 2021 West Health/Gallup poll found was popular with 97% of Democrats and even 61% of Republicans.
The bill would also ensure that more children have access to pre-K education, and that parents struggling with child care costs won't pay more than a set percentage of their income in child care. In many cities, child care costs more than rent, and in 33 states and Washington, DC, one year of infant care costs even more than a year of in-state college tuition. Nearly all Democrats and roughly 75% of Republican voters support free early child care, while 97% of Democrats and 82% of Republicans are in favor of expanding early childhood pre-K education.
But the sheer number of popular policies that can fit into a $3.5 trillion spending bill is massive. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, is even going on a tour of rural red states to tout the bill's proposals.
Sanders is particularly adamant on creating a national paid family and medical leave program in which the government will pay 12 weeks of a worker's salary if they have a new baby or have a serious medical issue. Pew Research found that roughly 75% of both Democrats and Republicans believe that new moms should get paid maternity leave, and that workers who need to take an extended leave of absence for medical issues should be able to get paid leave.
Additionally, the reconciliation bill would expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing care for seniors, include funding to help drought-ridden states more effectively battle wildfires, provide more renewable energy tax credits and electric car subsidies, and even pay for two years of community college for anyone who wants it, among other policies. It would essentially be the largest expansion of social programs since the New Deal.
Should Democrats succeed in passing the reconciliation bill, it would give them a full quiver of popular policies to run on, and 2022 could be the first midterm election since 1950 in which Democrats hold the White House and maintain their Congressional majorities. This is vitally important to make sure the popular policies in the reconciliation bill remain in place.
The 2010 midterms, in which Democrats suffered historic losses, were the beginning of the end of the Obama presidency. Even though Democrats still held the Senate, the extremist Tea Party faction in the GOP ensured then-President Obama's policy priorities would never make it through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. While Obama was reelected in 2012, GOP obstruction of his policies gave Democrats even less to run on in the 2014 midterms, costing Democrats control of the Senate.
The 2014 midterms not only resulted in then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) effectively stealing a Supreme Court seat from Democrats, but in a record-low rate of judicial confirmations for lower courts. Democrats losing their Senate majority was the key reason Donald Trump was able to quickly confirm so many federal judges during the first half of his term, as he inherited more than 100 judicial vacancies.
If the 2022 midterms result in Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-California) holding the Speaker's gavel and McConnell re-assuming control of the Senate, Biden's presidency is finished. Passing bold policies now is not only good for constituents, it's good politics for Democrats who want to remain in office.