WASHINGTON (AP) – Divided Democrats struggling to implement President Joe Biden’s national agenda face one of Congress’ most cruel puzzles: Your goals may be popular, but that doesn’t guarantee they will become a law or that the voters will reward you.
Polls show the public likes health care, education and other initiatives proposed for the huge package. But Democrats failed to close the sale to voters, who have been distracted by the party’s internal struggle over the plan’s multi-trillion dollar price tag, remain confused as to what is actually in the measure and are skeptical. that it would help them personally.
History shows that widely supported ideas can fail in Congress anyway. Even passing a welcome measure does not mean that voters in the next election will reward the party behind it. Further, Democrats are framing their bill against the backdrop of a country hardened along partisan lines and while large majorities frown on the way Washington is handling its work.
“Cynicism and lack of confidence in institutions,” Democratic pollster Molly Murphy said. People “don’t think that a lot is getting done. And then it becomes a bit self-fulfilling, they don’t pay attention ”to what is going on in Washington.
For Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster, “the popularity of particular policies has been overtaken by the power of partisanship and polarization.”
Progressive and centrist Democrats fought for months for the package, which includes items that get high marks in the polls. Originally put forward as a 10-year, $ 3.5 trillion plan, the moderates are lowering its price.
Biden told lawmakers this week he believed he could negotiate a compromise with the centrists for a package closer to $ 2 trillion. To do this, Democrats are considering reducing the cost and duration of priorities such as the child tax credit, paid family leave, and expanded federal health care benefits.
These talks are continuing and success is not guaranteed. But the party would have so much to lose from the collapse of Biden’s prominent national goal – plus a bipartisan $ 1 trillion package of infrastructure projects – that the pressure to strike a deal is immense.
Republicans unanimously oppose the broader social and environmental measure.
Polls show the public loves the overall plan and that many of its individual elements have extremely strong support, apparently giving Democrats an edge. In a May poll by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, nearly 9 in 10 people supported the government forcing the government to cut prescription costs by negotiating the prices of the drugs it buys.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey in July found that about two-thirds or more supported strengthening affordable housing, providing care for the elderly, making kindergarten free and l raising taxes on the rich and corporate to pay much of the cost. Other polls have shown strong support for the creation of paid family leave and the fight against climate change.
Yet investigations have shown frustrated party leaders have failed to clearly communicate the plan’s content and benefits to voters during the months-long legislative chore.
Two polls this month have had worrying signs for Democrats.
A CNN poll showed only 1 in 4 people said their families would be better off if the legislation was enacted – only about half of them Democrats. A Gallup poll found 43% want stronger government pressure to fix the problems, compared to 54% who said so a year ago.
The spotlight on lawmakers fighting for the cost and policies of their proposal has led many to say that communication needs to be better targeted.
“Send the content rather than the process,” Democratic pollster Celinda Lake said. “As we say in our company, sell the brownie, not the mixture.”
While Democrats have a solid chance of eventually uniting around a compromise, there is precedent for popular ideas that have failed to get through Congress anyway.
A 2013 campaign to expand background checks for gun sales months after the massacre of elementary school children in Newtown, Connecticut, failed. It was the same in 2018 to help young immigrant “dreamers” to become citizens.
Both received strong Democratic support in the Senate and some support from the GOP. But each has fallen victim to Republican-led tactics called obstructionists that require 60 votes in the Senate to overcome. Democrats are using a special process that would allow them to approve this year’s national measure by a simple majority vote, but they will need unanimous party support in the Senate and near-solid support from the House to succeed.
The current national bill underscores how broad acceptance of an issue can mask intense aversion on the part of voters on one side, making it easier for lawmakers in that party to oppose it.
In the AP-NORC survey, 76% of Democrats but only 27% of Republicans supported free community college. The extension of more generous tax credits for children is favored by 73% of Democrats and 34% of Republicans. Housing assistance and free kindergarten have also won far more support from Democrats than Republicans.
Democrats also know that even passing major legislation incorporating Biden’s goals might not prevent major setbacks in next year’s midterm election. This is especially true in the House, where large losses in such contests are historically common.
Democrats lost 54 seats and control of the House in the 1994 election despite the approval of a large budget and gun control measures under President Bill Clinton. They lost 64 seats and their majority in the House in 2010, months after President Barack Obama’s healthcare overhaul passed.
The party that owns the White House has won House seats in only three of the 40 midterm elections since the Civil War. In the Senate, this party won seats in only 13 of those elections.
Right now, Republicans are on course to take over the House if they can only win five seats in next year’s vote. They would gain control of the Senate if they got a seat.
Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut contributed to this report.
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