If Congress passes the vast reconciliation bill, voters will like what's in it. That's the Obamacare-like line some Democrats are taking as President Joe Biden steps up his campaign to pull the sprawling spending package across the finish line.
“What’s really, really important here is to emphasize how it’s being paid for,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake told the Washington Examiner. And, she said, “you need to talk about what the money buys.”
The $3.5 trillion 10-year spending plan includes sweeping child care and eldercare provisions, climate proposals, and drug pricing controls. While the measures are popular with many Democrats, they come with a price tag that has centrists on edge.
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Two centrists who have argued against the high cost of the package, Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, met with Biden this week to discuss the road ahead. In the House, swing district Democrats have also voiced concerns.
Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Biden laid out a choice: “Are we going to continue with an economy where the overwhelming share of the benefits go to big corporations and the very wealthy, or are we going to take this moment right now to set this country on a new path?”
Lake said the bill’s components “are even more popular than the bill overall.”
“The biggest issue we have is people don’t know what’s in it,” she said.
She added that worried Democrats are “applying an old way of thinking” to the multitrillion-dollar spending proposal. The White House intends to fund much of the package by raising taxes on corporations and the wealthy.
“It’s the first time where the funding mechanism for the package is one of the most popular proposals. Voters really like the idea that the wealthy and big corporations will be paying their fair share,” Lake said. “And they respond very strongly to the reassurance that no one making under $400,000 will be paying more in taxes.”
Biden leaned into this message on Thursday, stating that 50 million families would reap tax cuts from his plan while big companies and the very wealthy would soon “pay their fair share.”
Lake praised Biden as “totally on message” and said he should continue emphasizing the taxing mechanism on the wealthy and people making over $400,000.
“The campaign spent a tremendous amount of advertising dollars on that point,” she added.
But unlike Biden’s bipartisan infrastructure plan, which 69 senators backed and is currently awaiting a vote in the House, the budget package is unlikely to garner any Republican votes. Instead, Democrats intend to pass it through reconciliation with 50 party-line votes, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
Michele Stockwell, senior vice president at the Bipartisan Policy Center and the executive director of BPC Action, said the package would likely slim down as it makes its way to the floor — but not without contention.
“The challenge for Democrats is how do they scale it back?” Stockwell said. “[Democrats] set out expectations that we can address all of these issues. And now it’s harder to go back and try to rein in those expectations.”
She said the president could help determine the bill’s new parameters. “This is where the White House needs to step in.”
Lake said plans to lower prescription drug prices, increase eldercare support, and expand Medicare and eldercare are “wildly popular with seniors.” Child tax credits and care provisions score well with women, particularly suburban women, including those who lean Republican. Lake identified seniors and women as key audiences for the package.
But polls suggest Democrats could face headwinds with those groups in the midterm elections.
A generic ballot survey conducted by Public Opinion Strategies shows Democrats and Republicans tied for the first time since 2015, each with 42% of the ballot. In April 2020, voters favored a Democratic candidate by six percentage points at 47%, with the GOP candidate at 41%.
Democrats led with independents and college graduates by 11 percentage points in 2020, but those leads have collapsed. White, suburban, and rural voters are also flocking to Republicans.
Among women 45 and over, the parties are tied at 43%.
The survey was conducted Sept. 1-8, 2021, with 800 voters and had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.46 percentage points.
Glen Bolger, a Republican pollster and partner at Public Opinion Strategies, said Democrats are looking at an uphill climb.
“Biden’s overall disapproval rating and, more challenging for him, his strong disapproval ratings, are right where Donald Trump’s were just before the November 2018 midterm elections when the party in power lost the House and numerous gubernatorial seats,” Bolger said in an email.
POS’s latest survey shows Biden underwater with crucial swing groups, including independents, people in the Midwest, white women, and suburban and undecided voters. The same poll showed Biden’s job approval slipping to 48%, with a 50% disapproval rating. Forty-two percent of respondents said they strongly disapproved of the president’s job handling, a net difference of -19 percentage points from those firmly in favor.
Presidential approval is the best predictor of whether an incumbent political party will gain or lose seats in an election, according to POS analysis of Gallup data.
Their review of results from 1962 to 2018, omitting 1974, predicts a loss of 39 congressional seats on average for the party of a president whose job approval falls below 49%.
“No Democrat in their right mind and a competitive seat would want to run in this political environment,” Bolger said.