WaPo, again: Dems suddenly worried getting work done ahead of midterms

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

The Washington Post’s editors keep dropping hints about the midterms. Perhaps Democrats have finally started listening. A day after noting that House moderates want to stop obsessing over progressives’ hobby-horse agenda items and go into the midterms with a few wins, the Post reports on how little Democrats have accomplished in their previous high-priority issue of health care.

Even House Progressive Caucus chair Pramila Jayapal sounds concerned, even though she’s a large part of the problem:

In 2020, Democrats pledged a slew of health-care changes if voters would just give them Congress and the White House. Voters did just that — and now Democrats are feeling pressured to deliver on their promises as midterm elections approach.

The party campaigned on an ambitious agenda of beefing up Obamacare, increasing health care access to America’s most vulnerable patients, and, most significantly, lowering the high cost of prescription drugs in the United States. A year later, there’s increasing concern within the party about what falling short on their long-standing goals could mean for this year’s midterms.

“It has been a concern for us,” said Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.). ”You can see it with the number of Democrats in vulnerable districts across the country who want to be able to go back and tell people that we’ve lowered their costs for child care, for pre-K, for elder care, for drug pricing, for health care.”

Jayapal’s concern is motivated by her demand to pass the entire Build Back Better bill, which contains these items but also a whole lot more. Jayapal and her caucus want to push their bill, with its $4.5 trillion ten-year projected cost, despite adamant refusals from Joe Manchin to budge on the bloated cheeseburger even under reconciliation. The latest inflation figures will only make Manchin dig in his heels further against the kind of monetary expansion such spending will require.

Now some moderates want to see pieces of this get over the finish line, the Post notes, but will progressives allow it?

Advocates say the health care portions included in the House-passed sweeping economic package are some of its more popular provisions, and they are hopeful they’d remain in any further iterations of the bill. This includes efforts like boosting in-home care for seniors and the disabled, extending Medicaid to 2.2 million poor adults and granting Medicare the power to negotiate prescription drug prices.

“I feel ultimately that Democrats will manage to get something over the finish line that is substantial on health care,” said Eliot Fishman, a senior director of health policy at Families USA, a left-leaning consumer health lobby. “[That’s] because it’s something which the public wants, because they know about the potential consequences for the midterms, and because it’s something which there’s not a lot of disagreement on among Democrats.”

Manchin offered to trim down the bill to around $1.8 trillion in ten-year costs by focusing on a limited number of programs. Jayapal and her cohort refused to consider anything less than everything, however, and made such a stink about the “something’s better than nothing” argument that Manchin eventually gave up entirely on negotiations last month. They ended up with almost nothing on the scoreboard for 2021 except an unnecessary stimulus package that provided the catalyst for a massive inflationary wave (and still didn’t produce COVID tests), and an infrastructure bill that progressives managed to make look like a humiliating loss.

What about 2022? The Post’s Olivier Knox points to Joe Biden’s upcoming press conference tomorrow as a potential reset point:

President Biden holds his first news conference of 2022 on Wednesday, a question-and-answer session against the backdrop of Democrats’ deepening angst about their party’s fortunes in the midterm elections and pressure for the White House to embrace, or at least announce, a course-correction. It’s not at all clear they’ll get either. …

Some of the calls for change are coming from inside the House. My colleague Marianna Sotomayor reported Monday that Democratic members of Congress representing competitive districts are pushing Biden to embrace a new strategy they think will help come November.

Olivier notes the good news and bad news of the situation, and … they’re the same thing:

Neither moderates nor progressives sound happy. And history doesn’t offer Democrats a lot of comfort. The good news for Democrats is Joe Biden has been here before. The bad news for Democrats is that Joe Biden has been here before. …

Meanwhile, as his presidency approaches its first anniversary on Thursday, it appears to be running out of gas. Biden’s job approval numbers are underwater, averaging in the low 40s. The Democrats’ push for voting rights is headed for defeat on the Senate floor. His ambitious Build Back Better legislation is stymied. As a new variant of the coronavirus is sending record numbers to the hospital, the Supreme Court has struck down his administration’s vaccine-or-test mandate for private business. Inflation is running at its highest rate since the 1980s, dampening an otherwise robust economic recovery.”

All of this revolves around one question: will Biden continue to let the progressive wing dictate strategy, tactics, and policy? Or will he demand that they get into line and start looking for the center and welcome Republican engagement, as Biden promised in the 2020 election? That’s the reset he needs, but given Biden’s instincts and his track record, it’s a better bet that he doubles down on demagoguery and nonsensical smears.