Reconciliation and 2022

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) speak to one another before the start of a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., July 28, 2021. (Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters)

If the Democrats pass a large reconciliation bill, it will be in part because a lot of them believe that not passing one will damage them in the 2022 midterm elections. The theory is that failure will demoralize the party’s base and leave swing voters unimpressed. Two points of evidence in favor of this view: the 1994 and 2006 elections, when the party in control of the White House could not enact its top priority (a health-care and Social Security overhaul, respectively) and lost control of both the House and the Senate.

I wonder, though, if this lesson has been overlearned. Passing Obamacare does not seem to have stanched Democratic losses in the 2010 midterms. If COVID seems to be under control and the economy strong in the fall of 2022, will swing voters really be remembering that the reconciliation bill had to be pared back? And won’t base voters be motivated, as usual these days, by fear that the other side will gain power? If, on the other hand, COVID and the economy have made for an unhappy electorate, would passage of $4 trillion in new spending really help Democrats?

Fear of failure is only part of what’s moving Democrats. Some of them expect to lose next year and want to get as much of the progressive wish list accomplished before then as possible. That view, whatever else one thinks of it, seems better grounded than the idea that Democrats can spend their way to a better election result.

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