June 17, 2024

ran on nothing — and lost

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
They ran on nothing – and lost
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON — The most significant reasons Democrats lost Virginia and only narrowly won New Jersey, a Democratic stronghold, were the party’s perceived failure to lead, govern, and deliver on promises made. They ran on nothing. An infrastructure bill that would build roads, bridges, and broadband, passed the Senate months ago but has languished in the House. A larger “human” infrastructure bill to buttress the country’s social safety net and address climate change is still working its way through the legislative process, its outcome not yet assured.
          Enough already, the voters said in Tuesday’s thumbs-down referendum on Democrats and President Biden, who a year ago carried Virginia by 10 points and New Jersey by 16 points. Taking questions from reporters the day after the election, Biden empathized with voters, saying they are “upset and uncertain about a lot of things”, including the pandemic, education, the economy, and the rising price of gas at the pump.
          The Democrats’ Build Back Better legislation includes money for childcare assistance and universal preschool and will lower the price of widely used prescription drugs like insulin. Biden agreed that passage of this legislation might have helped Democrat Terry McAuliffe in Virginia. “People want us to get things done,” Biden said.
          These are landmark proposals Democrats have wanted to implement for a long time and now, finally, they are on the precipice of bringing them to reality. Meanwhile, Speaker Pelosi, D-Calif., has missed more voting deadlines in the last few weeks than in her entire speakership, yet she remains convinced that Democrats will succeed in getting these two pieces of legislation to Biden for his signature.
          Impatient voters should be reminded that in our democratic system, there are checks and balances built into the process, and legislating takes time especially with a majority as tight as the one Biden has in both chambers. He can’t lose a single vote in the Senate. He needs all 48 Democrats plus 2 Independents that caucus with the Democrats, Vermont’s Bernie Sanders, and Maine’s Angus King.
          To put Biden’s challenge in perspective, the two most recent Democratic presidents, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, had sizeable margins in the Senate when they took office. Obama had 59 Democrats and briefly reached 60 when Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords switched parties. Clinton took office with 56 Democrats in the Senate. Those majorities did not endure, and we cite them only to remind readers what a daunting challenge Biden faces.
          He has taken on the kind of challenges that past presidents would attempt only when they had significant majorities in Congress. With only the tiniest margins, Biden needed time to persuade and to cajole, and to bribe and bully when needed within reason. Biden is no LBJ, who was famous for his strongarm tactics, but he must bring the power of his office to bear when he makes the case to reluctant Democrats. They are part of a team, and they will hang separately or hang together if the Democrats can’t produce, a bad outcome either way.
          Biden pointed out that all the elements of his Build Back Better legislation are popular with voters, and Democrats need to get out and explain what is in the details of these bills. Democrats lost key races because they went to the voters empty-handed. If they don’t pass the legislation they promised, what will they take to the voters in next year’s midterms?
          You can’t run on nothing, and Biden is trying mightily to get something significant done. It takes time to corral the votes, and it didn’t happen fast enough to change the outcome in Virginia. But if Democrats don’t want to repeat what happened on Tuesday, they had better crank up the legislative sausage-making and get a product they can take to the voters from now until next November because it will take that long to win back the voters they lost through their inaction.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency and World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers).
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2021 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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