The November 2 elections
So, what happened to change the minds of all but six House progressives to capitulate and vote for the BIF without the BBBA? November 2 happened – Election Day across America. It was a disastrous day for the Democratic Party as Republicans took back several state and local Democratic seats, including the governorship in Virginia, a state President Biden won by 10 points. The Republican candidate, Glenn Youngkin, won Virginia by 2 points – that’s a 12-point swing in what has been considered a blue-leaning state. In New Jersey, the incumbent Democratic governor barely beat the Republican challenger. Biden won New Jersey by 16 points, a 15-point swing in a solid blue state. Republicans won big on November 2, and not just the governor races; they won across the nation in county and municipal races.
Republicans came out on top because of their messaging. They ran on issues that the progressive side of the Democratic Party is embracing: mask mandates, vaccination mandates, delayed Covid-related school openings, teaching critical race theory, and defunding the police, to name a few. The Democrats, on the other hand, campaigned on Trump. They tried tying the Republican candidates to Trump, and in doing so, did a poor job of defending or distancing themselves from the issues the Republican candidates focused and hit on.
To be fair, not all Democrats are in favor of issues like defunding the police and Covid-related mandates. And in Virginia, Youngkin’s hammering on teaching critical race theory in schools was essentially a play on parents’ concerns around the issue.
Needless to say, the anti-Trump angle didn’t help the Democratic candidates. Glenn Youngkin organized a campaign that gracefully accepted Trump’s endorsement, while neither inviting Trump to campaign with him, nor referencing Trump’s name on the campaign trail. Youngkin even managed to use Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe’s constant attempt to tie Youngkin to Trump against him. In one debate, Youngkin called McAuliffe out for using Trump’s name over 20 times while Youngkin himself did not mention Trump once.
Youngkin did something that no Republican candidate had been able to accomplish thus far: gain Trump’s endorsement while keeping Trump away from his campaign, and not ticking him off in the process. Glenn Youngkin has created a blueprint for other Republican hopefuls to run a traditional GOP campaign without tying themselves to Trump.
Post-election, Trump was quick to take credit for Youngkin’s win, claiming that his base showing up to vote delivered the victory. While Youngkin certainly could not have won without the Trump base, remember that Trump lost Virginia by 10 points. His base was not big enough in Virginia to hand Trump the state. Youngkin won because he was able to turn two demographics his way: suburbanites (namely the women) and independents – both of whom voted overwhelmingly for President Biden. Youngkin succeeded in swinging enough of these voters by focusing on issues like Covid mandates and education.
What do the November 2 elections have to do with the BBBA?
November 2 was a wakeup call to the Democrats. Given the President’s disappointing polling numbers over the past few months, he needed a win in November, but now the whole Democratic Party in DC needed one as well. Their lackluster messaging and inability to get anything done in Congress may cost them dearly in the 2022 midterm elections.
The days following the November 2 losses changed the attitude in the Democrat-controlled House, as House leadership and President Biden saw an opening to get the BIF passed without the BBBA. It also gave House moderates reason to stall on voting, claiming they needed to see the true price of the bill – now down to $1.75 trillion – from the independent Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO assesses the cost of the bill, and with it, the revenue the bill could raise to pay for the BBBA. House progressives, who had insisted they would not vote for the BIF without the BBBA, knew the importance of getting the BIF passed to give the Democrats a much-needed win. The BIF passed the House date with all but six Democratic caucus members and 13 Republicans. Now, the BBBA must pass alone.
But pass it did... at least in the House. After the CBO released their score on Thursday, November 18, the House voted to pass the BBBA on party lines the next morning. Only one Democrat crossed the aisle to vote against the bill. The CBO put the price tag at $1.75 trillion, revealing that it will increase the federal deficit by $160 billion over 10 years. The CBO’s comment discredits Biden’s promise that the BBBA would be fully paid for. Not surprisingly, the White House pushed back, claiming the CBO underestimated the amount the IRS will collect from wealthy tax dodgers with the $80 billion the bill provides the IRS to do so. The CBO’s total also does not include the tax credits the bill provides, which, when added, would increase the total price tag to $2.4 trillion. In the end, the CBO score was enough to appease the House Democrats into voting to get the bill out of the House and make it the Senate’s problem.
Now that the bill is in the Senate’s hands, Senate Majority Leader Schumer must find a path forward to get all 50 Democratic senators on board. Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia has expressed several concerns on the overall package, including inflation. If November’s inflation number, released the first week of December, is still high, getting a yes vote from Manchin will be extremely difficult. Other centrist senators have inflation concerns but haven’t been as vocal as Manchin. There are other progressive issues, like immigration and Medicare, that could get stripped out. Senate Democrats have to find the lowest common denominator to get all of the senators – from Bernie Sanders to Joe Manchin – to vote for this massive social spending bill.
The Senate leaves Washington, DC on November 19 and returns on November 29. Their last scheduled working day of 2021 is December 10, giving them 10 days to get a vote on this. It is very unlikely they will vote on the BBBA before December 6, so that gives them one more week. If the bill passes the Senate, there will be several changes. As the House’s last working day is also December 10, members will have mere days to agree to every Senate provision. That too, is a tall order. The progressive caucus has already seen their bill shrink from $6 trillion, to $3.5 trillion, to $1.75 trillion. Will the need for the win outweigh the social priorities that were attached to this bill?
Getting the BBBA out of the House was indeed a victory for the Democrats and one step closer to fulfilling the President’s and the Speaker’s signature piece of legislation. However, it is far from crossing the finish line before the year’s end.
Build Back Better and 2022
If the Democrats are not able to pass the BBBA in 2021, they will continue to work at passing it in 2022. They have until April, when the next Budget Resolution is scheduled to pass. From a political standpoint, however, dragging this on in its current configuration for two or three months is risky. There comes a time when they have to vote it through or let it go.
If they do let it go, it could get broken down into different components such as paid family leave, childcare, and eldercare. This could be an effective political strategy for the Democrats because these issues poll well. If Republicans vote against these individual provisions, Democrats could use the Republicans’ vote against them in the midterm election campaigns.
Inflation will continue to hamper the Democrats in Congress and the administration. Claiming that the BBBA will help deal with inflation by providing childcare, eldercare, healthcare, etc., may not offset rising prices for rent, cars, food, and goods. And what if the BBBA’s provisions do not benefit your household?
The economy, however, may soar in 2022 with all of the spending from the BIF and the BBBA. On January 1, 2022, $3 trillion from these two bills will hit the economy. And a booming economy is the Democrats’ best chance of not getting hammered in the 2022 midterm elections.