By Susan Cornwell
U.S. Democrats are riding buses and trains and holding roundtable discussions this summer as they make the case that a government spending blitz backed by President Joe Biden is improving voters’ lives ahead of 2022 congressional elections.
In New Jersey last week, Representative Tom Malinowski rode a train with Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg to highlight the benefits of a $1 trillion infrastructure package that he said would upgrade train service, roads and bridges and water pipes in the state.
“There’s not a town among the 75 towns I represent that won’t benefit in some way,” Malinowski said at a news conference in the town of Westfield, a New York City suburb.
Along with the bipartisan infrastructure bill, which has passed the Senate and is pending in the House, Democrats are backing an even larger, $3.5 trillion social policy measure.
The party’s pitch is getting a road test ahead of the November 2022 congressional elections. Democrats control the House of Representatives and the Senate by narrow margins and are acutely aware of the real risk of losing that majority next year.
A memo from senior House Democrats stressed the party’s message “must stay laser-focused on the substance of what we are getting done and how it will make life better for the people we serve.”
The Democratic National Committee has launched a 10-state “Build Back Better” bus tour, touting a $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief measure Congress passed last March, as well as the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the larger Democratic plan to boost social spending and fight climate change.
Republicans say the trillions in spending are inflationary. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy accused Democrats of going on “a socialist spending binge that will crush families, dismantle our economy and reshape our country in the worst possible way.”
Democrats say they will pay for the $3.5 trillion bill by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations. Polls say the American public likes the agenda.
“It’s already very popular,” said Representative Matt Cartwright, one of several House Democrats in charge of the party’s messaging. “Americans care about our results, and they want all of it.”
After visiting a wastewater treatment plant on Friday, New Hampshire Senator Maggie Hassan said the infrastructure bill would clean up toxic perfluoroalkyl chemicals and “help bring peace of mind to parents who should not have to worry about whether the water flowing from their tap is safe for their children.” Senator Alex Padilla of California said the bill will help cities in his state prepare for wildfires. Representative Steve Horsford of Nevada said it would help restore Lake Tahoe, which scientists say has suffered from climate change.
Progressive Democrats are focused on the $3.5 trillion social spending proposal. Representative Maxine Waters and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited an early childhood education center in California last week to promote a child tax credit that would be extended under the plan.
But the Democrats’ message has been clouded by infighting.
Many House progressives, anxious their priorities may be cut, say they won’t for vote for the infrastructure bill until the Senate has also sent them the $3.5 trillion plan funding education, climate measures, healthcare, and child care. Some moderate House Democrats want to pass the infrastructure bill first. It’s unclear how this will be resolved.
Malinowski predicts the infrastructure bill will pass and be followed by a slew of ribbon-cutting ceremonies for projects next year in New Jersey, where commuter rail service into New York City is subject to congestion and delays.
The bill provides funding for the long-sought Gateway tunnel for trains between New Jersey and Manhattan, which was proposed in 2011 after then-New Jersey Governor Chris Christie canceled earlier plans to replace a century-old tunnel under the Hudson River.
In Westfield, Malinowski said he would press the government to spend the money quickly once the bill is passed. “Folks in this community, they don’t want to wait 10 years,” he said.