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When Democrats took control of the White House and both chambers of Congress, they promised to significantly improve the social safety net in the wake of the deadliest pandemic in a century and the resulting economic fallout it created. But thanks largely to two obstructionist Senators, that agenda has yet to pass. And last night’s drubbing in Virginia and elsewhere should be seen as a warning to Democrats that 2022 will be much worse for them unless they take immediate action to improve the material conditions of the American working class.
In addition to losing the gubernatorial race in Virginia, Democrats also lost races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General. Virginia Democrats even lost control of the House of Delegates (the commonwealth’s lower chamber). While Democratic Governor Phil Murphy is prevailing in New Jersey, his margin of victory as of this writing is less than one half of one percent, and that’s in a state Democrats carried by 16 points just last year. And in Buffalo, New York — the Empire State’s second-largest city — Democratic nominee India Walton appears to have lost her bid to former mayor Byron Brown, whom she defeated in the June primary. Brown’s write-in campaign cruised with the help of Republican support.
Democrats don’t need to dig that deep to figure out what voters really want. A Morning Consult/Politico poll conducted last week found that a vast majority of respondents of both parties overwhelmingly support the cornerstone policies of Biden’s legislative agenda (the Build Back Better Act).
Out of a sample evenly made up of registered Democrats, Republicans, and Independents, 70 percent support paid family and medical leave for new parents; 72 percent of respondents support allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices; 82 percent support expanding Medicare to include dental and vision benefits; and 78 percent of those polled are in favor of including hearing services in Medicare coverage. Voters are loudly telling Congress what they want, but these policies have been stripped from the bill, chiefly due to opposition from Senators Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona).
Sen. Manchin is on the record opposing the proposed expansions of Medicare. This is despite his state being the third oldest in the nation. Nearly 20 percent of West Virginia’s population is over 65 years of age and would directly benefit from the strengthening of Medicare. And even though Arizona is the 12th oldest state, with seniors making up approximately 18 percent of its population, Sinema is against Medicare providing dental and vision benefits, and is also opposed to Medicare negotiating the prices of prescription drugs (Sinema has received nearly $600,000 in career contributions from the pharmaceutical industry). These provisions are not only popular, but desperately needed. Last year, the West Health Policy Center estimated that more than 1.1 million seniors will die over the next decade due to not being able to afford the cost of their prescriptions.
Meanwhile, four weeks of paid family leave — instead of the originally proposed twelve — have been reinserted into the Build Back Better bill after an outcry among Democratic activists who helped usher Biden into power. But it remains unclear whether Manchin will object to even that paltry offering.
Even though Democrats control the Senate, they still need all 50 members to support the bill in order for it to pass through the budget reconciliation process with a tiebreaker vote from Vice President Kamala Harris, since Republicans are united in their opposition to it. Given the vast level of support for the bill’s most popular policies, this means Senators Manchin and Sinema are directly responsible for the American people not getting what they want. And if last night’s disappointing results for Democrats are any indicator, Manchin and Sinema’s obstruction of Biden’s agenda could lead to Republicans taking back control of Congress this time next year.
The Covid pandemic is the deadliest in American history, killing nearly 750,000 Americans and counting. This death toll has not only outpaced the 1918 influenza pandemic, but is higher than the combined number of US military casualties in 10 major wars throughout our history. And wage stagnation along with intolerable working conditions have prompted a wave of strikes across the US in multiple industries. The American working class is exhausted and fed up, and we’re counting on Democrats to do the job we elected them to do and give us some relief.
When American voters elected Democrats in 2020, we did it because Democrats promised to meet the urgency of the moment. Whittling down the president’s agenda from a once-in-a-generation expansion of the safety net into a hodgepodge of tax credits with the most popular elements stripped out is an abject failure to address the crisis facing working-class Americans. If Democrats continue their pattern of triangulating and capitulating rather than delivering on what they promised, they will lose badly in 2022. And they will deserve it.
Carl Gibson is a freelance journalist and columnist. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs