Politico: Biden's domestic agenda near collapse -- and Dems know it

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

A trillion here, a trillion there, and sooner or later people start noticing the math doesn’t add up. Enough people have noticed this about Joe Biden’s expansive and expensive domestic agenda to put the entire enterprise on the verge of collapse. And Democrats know it, Politico reports, but are too torn to stop what appears to be inevitable:

Internal Democratic discord has wounded President Joe Biden’s massive social spending plan, raising the prospect that the package could stall out, shrink dramatically — or even fail altogether.

Myriad problems have arisen. Moderate Senate Democrats Joe Manchin (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) continue to be a major headache for party leadership’s $3.5 trillion target. The Senate parliamentarian just nixed the party’s yearslong push to enact broad immigration reform. House members may tank the prescription drugs overhaul the party has run on for years. And a fight continues to brew over Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) push to expand Medicare.

“If any member of Congress is not concerned that this could fall apart, they need treatment,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who warned his party “will pay for it at the polls” if it fails in enacting Biden’s agenda. “Our caucus has the feeling of freedom to support or oppose leadership.”

Guess what? Democrats have already started paying a price at the polls, and it’s not because the Biden agenda hasn’t passed. RealClearPolitics doesn’t chart their aggregate average on the generic congressional ballot question, but the numbers have been cutting away from Democrats over the summer. At the moment, Democrats are up by 1.3 points, thanks in part to an outlier +4 from Quinnipiac. That’s the first over-the-MoE lead Democrats have had since a May poll, also from Quinnipiac. Everything else has been a one-point difference.

Those who follow this trend understand that these narrow gaps do not portend a tie. This question routinely overfavors Democrats for various polling and structural reasons, but it’s generally assumed that anything less than a D+5 is bad news for Democrats — especially in a midterm with a Democratic president.

What’s more, Democrats understand that only too well — and are adjusting their aim accordingly:

Democrats are trying to unseat only about half as many Republican House members next year as they did in 2020, trimming their target list from 39 to 21.

Why it matters: The narrowing map — which reflects where Democrats see their best chance of flipping seats — is the latest datapoint showing the challenging political landscape the party faces in the crucial 2022 midterms. …

Democrats are already anticipating they won’t have to spend as much in places like Rep. Lauren Underwood of Illinois’ 14th District. She won by less than 2 percentage points last time but it will likely become more favorable to Dems after redistricting.

But nationally Republicans hold the redistricting edge. Of the 12 states with DCCC target districts, Democrats are only in charge of drawing the new maps in one (New York). Republicans control that process in 8 of the other states, comprising 11 of Dems’ 21 targets.

And all of that doesn’t even account for Biden himself. As pointed out in my earlier post, Biden has suddenly gone from team leader to albatross in the midterm fight. His approval polls have sharply tanked ever since the debacle in Afghanistan, making it even more difficult to get moderate Democrats behind Biden. The big question now is whether Biden can rebound from it, or whether this becomes a Hurricane Katrina confidence-crisis cascade. That may depend in large part whether national media outlets choose to keep providing Biden cover on the abandoned Americans in Afghanistan, but if hostage situations arise, that will become an impossible task.

Democratic leadership face more mundane “headwinds” as well:

Those headwinds threaten to sap the momentum from this summer, when Biden clinched a bipartisan infrastructure deal in the Senate and found support from all corners of his party for a budget setting up his sweeping spending bill. Now, Manchin is calling for a pause, moderates are resisting key components of the legislation and a new fiscal fight over the debt limit is heating up.

On top of everything else, Biden and his team have mismanaged the expectations game. Why they didn’t spend time with moderates to figure out the top end of their limit on spending is anyone’s guess, but apparently the White House thought they could just buffalo Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema while only holding 50 Senate seats and a four-vote swing in the House. It’s almost akin to going all in with a pair of deuces and ignoring the other show cards on the table. Any failure here will look all the more acute because of it, and it will exacerbate the internecine tensions within the Democratic coalition that already exist when Congress ends up producing nothing at all.

Midterms, especially in the first term, are almost always referenda on the incumbent president. Democrats are heading for a historic collapse if that holds true in 2022.