As congressional Democrats struggle to breathe new life into their stalled legislative agenda, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this week told “VIP” donors on a leaked private phone call that all party members need to brag about the House-passed version of the Build Back Better bill even as she cautioned her colleagues not to describe the multitrillion-dollar spending measure’s impact as too sweeping.
“So, this is transformative. But people tell me, don’t use the word ‘transformative.’ Just say it lowers costs,” she told supporters on the call. “It lowers costs for health care — costs for families across America; it lowers cost of child care; it enables so much more to happen. So, we’re very, very proud of the legislation. Now we just have to get it passed.”
It’s a message that Democratic leaders have been unsuccessfully pushing for months amid Senate gridlock on the “human infrastructure” bill they view as companion legislation to the $1.2 trillion traditional infrastructure measure enacted in November.
Recent polls, however, show that the flagging economy is the top priority for the majority of Americans who worry that President Biden’s agenda will continue stoking inflation – one of the main reasons why key Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin opposes Build Back Better. A CNBC Change Research survey released this week found that a whopping 73% of voters believe the economy is in “poor” or “not so good shape,” and 60% disapprove of Biden’s economic record.
In light of those numbers, there’s little wonder why some Democrats in tough election battles this year aren’t heeding Pelosi’s call to sing the praises of progressives’ vast social spending measure. With the party facing serious headwinds in the November midterms, five Democratic House challengers have been noticeably mum about their position on BBB, failing to publicly tout Biden’s top legislative priority, with no mentions of it on their otherwise active social media sites.
Christina Bohannan, a Democratic state legislator from Iowa City who is running in her state’s newly drawn 1st Congressional District, is one example. Although the Iowa Democratic Party has been vigorously promoting Build Back Better, Bohannan has been conspicuously silent on the measure to the point of not even mentioning it on her Twitter account. She didn’t return repeated requests from RealClearPolitics to say whether she supports the bill. Instead of promoting her party’s top legislative priority, in December Bohannan tweeted about her endorsements, nursing shortages across Iowa, severe weather and her recent comments on education and abortion issues.
Several other Democratic challengers in highly competitive races have been similarly reticent even as progressives from safe seats, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Bernie Sanders, have spent weeks railing against Manchin for backing away from the measure after pledging to work with Biden to negotiate a compromise.
Nebraska state Sen. Tony Vargas, one of two Democratic challengers to Republican Rep. Don Bacon, as well as Yadira Caraveo, a Colorado pediatrician and state legislator, also have not wholeheartedly backed the BBB bill on social media or elsewhere. Neither candidate responded to RCP requests to state their position on it.
Even in a blue California district, a Democratic state legislator challenging Republican Rep. David Valadao has been muted in his public comments about Build Back Better. Republicans scouring Rudy Salas Jr.’s record on the subject did unearth a puckish reference to “BBB” on Twitter more than a decade ago, right before he ran for the open state assembly seat Valadao left behind, but it wasn’t about infrastructure spending of any type.
“At St. Francis for the BBB (Bible, BBQ, Beer) meeting this evening. Always good to be grounded,” he tweeted in April 2011.
Likewise, Liz Mathis, an Iowa state senator who is running against incumbent Republican Rep. Ashley Hinson, has only one BBB Twitter reference, and it dates back to 2013. Mathis tweeted out a photo from a fundraiser event for Bruce Braley, a former Democratic congressman who ran a losing campaign for Senate against Joni Ernst in 2014.
“BBB (Braley Backyard Bash) fundraiser for @BruceBraley,” she tweeted.
Instead of promoting passage of the social spending bill, Mathis on New Year’s Eve acknowledged that 2021 has been “a hard year.”
“The insurrection at the capitol on 1/6, the COVID crisis, and challenges facing the economy have all made certain that this campaign couldn’t be more important.”
Mathis did include a description of the Build Back Better measure in a newsletter her state Senate office released in late November. The BBB section appears under the heading “Federal Initiatives Invest in Iowa” and is listed after news of a state roundtable examining a teacher shortage.
The brief overview of the bill argues that it “addresses long-neglected needs,” touting provisions for paid family leave, caps on monthly insulin costs and Democratic claims that the measure would lower child care costs. In late October, however, the White House dropped any form of paid family leave from its framework after objections from Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.
“The federal legislation is expected to help level the playing field so that our economy once again works for everyone, not just those at the top,” Mathis wrote in the newsletter. “It aims to bring down costs that have held back families in Iowa for decades and give Iowans the chance to build a brighter future for themselves and their families.”
The new CNBC poll, which showed Biden with a 56% disapproval rating — the worst of his presidency — also revealed deep concerns over the spike in inflation since he took office. Nearly three-fourths of those polled disapprove of his handling of “kitchen table issues,” and 89% of voters labeled the price of everyday goods as “poor” or “not so good,” the survey found. Independents, who delivered the election for Biden, gave him a “D” across the board on economic issues with most voters blaming the rising prices of goods on his policies and government spending.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki didn’t budge when asked Wednesday whether the poll’s findings would prompt Democrats to recalibrate their policy agenda. Instead, she said that the job of selling the bill to the American people would be easier after it becomes law.
“What we see in a lot of polling is that people like the components of the bill, but they don’t know exactly what is in Build Back Better and what it means,” Psaki told reporters. “And it’s always easier to sell a package to the public once it’s passed. So, we’re hoping to get to that point. That is our objective.”
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.
Susan Crabtree is RealClearPolitics’ White House/national political correspondent.
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