The sausage-making on display over the past week in Washington was bad enough for Democrats trying to preserve their wafer-thin majorities in the House and Senate next year. That all of the back and forth didn’t produce any actual sausage is even worse.
Congressional Democrats spent the entire last week negotiating – and fighting – with themselves over the fate of two bills: 1) a $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure plan that has already passed the Senate with 69 votes and b) a several-trillion-dollar – we think – social safety net program that contains many of President Joe Biden’s first term agenda within it.
Neither bill got a vote – despite a previous promise from Speaker Nancy Pelosi that the infrastructure bill would, for sure, be voted on last Monday – or at least sometime last week.
The impasse left House Democrats headed to their home districts with absolutely nothing to show for their very-public efforts, except a very bright line drawn between its moderate and liberal wings.
“We were elected to achieve reasonable, common sense solutions for the American people – not to obstruct from the far wings,” said New Jersey Rep. Josh Gottheimer, a leading House moderate, in a statement after the infrastructure vote was called off. “This far left faction is willing to put the President’s entire agenda, including this historic bipartisan infrastructure package, at risk. They’ve put civility and bipartisan governing at risk.”
New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a prominent liberal, wasn’t backing down either. “We need to be real: Are we going to deliver universal pre-K to this country or not?,” she said. “Are we going to expand health care to our seniors and include vision and dental or not? Are we going to invest in housing … or not? That’s what we need to know.”
Here’s the problem for Democrats: They are in charge of every lever of governance. They control both houses of Congress. They control the White House.
Voters know those facts. And, if the past is prologue, have an expectation that Democrats will, therefore, be able to get things done for the country.
(Sidebar: The nitty gritty of this situation is far more complicated, with consolidated Republican opposition and the very narrow Democratic majorities making it very difficult to pass much of anything. But the average voter either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about those caveats.)
Not getting things done then has a very clear political impact. Almost 9 in 10 voters (88%) said that the federal government making “a significant investment in improving infrastructure” was either “very” or “somewhat” important to them in a September CNN poll. (It was the highest priority measured in the poll.)
There’s other data in that poll that should concern Democrats after the week they’ve had. Almost 7 in 10 (69%) said that things in the country are going either “pretty or “very” badly. Nearly 3 in 4 (75%) described themselves as “angry” when thinking about the state of the country at the moment. Almost 8 in 10 (77%) said they were worried about the state of the economy.
That is a portrait of a very uneasy – and combustible – electorate, an electorate looking to punish politicians who don’t give them what they want when they want it.
And, with Democrats in power, the punishment meted out by voters will fall disproportionately on them – especially if the current divisions on displays between liberals and moderates can’t be solved or at least mitigated in a way that allows for a popular measure like the infrastructure bill to be passed.
This is a very fraught moment for Democrats. What happens in the next month could well determine the party’s fate in the coming midterm elections.