Democrats just trying to ‘put points on the board’

Oct. 18, 2021

This week: The Briefing, Vol. IX, Issue 41

  • Biden allies are lowering expectations 
  • Court-packing is clearly off the table until 2028
  • New poll warns Sinema of the Left’s displeasure


Democrats’ impotence: The Biden agenda is stuck, and there may not be much time for Democrats to rescue it.

To understand the pressure under which Democrats have come, one need only look at this article from Politico. Its title might sound optimistic, but this is really the sound of the party’s less radical left wing giving up. They have basically moved the goalposts nearer to themselves, and they might miss anyway. They have gone from demanding a transformative and radical program that would change the country, to merely “putting points on the board.” 

As Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii rather cleverly put it, Democrats have spent too much time doing “performative losing” and must instead satisfy themselves with passing something while they control both the house and Senate as well as the presidency, as that situation is unlikely to endure very long.

They face two problems here, however. First, their majority is so small, that they cannot accomplish anything without the say so of all 50 Democratic and democrat-affiliated senators.

Their even bigger problem is that the Left will have to be on board with this strategy in the House. They have already forced House leadership to abandon it once, and they may well decide they won’t settle. 

The 40 or so farthest-left Democrats in the House have treated any attempt to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill on its own as a betrayal because it woul guarantee that the larger spending bill never gets done — all the pressure on moderates to vote for the larger bill disappears the moment the smaller, bipartisan bill passes.

So far, there is no indication that leftist House members are going to go along with the “points on the board” strategy of giving up on their long-held policy goals. They are not ready to give up on dreams such as Medicare expansion, massive new subsidies for wind and solar energy, and paid family leave. 

And Democrats have less time to sort this out than they probably think. With another debt ceiling fight coming up around Christmas, Congress May well have its hands full from that time through the next election. 

As when Trump was president, it remains true that a determined minority within a House majority can prevent things from happening. So far, the leftists in the House continue to do that successfully, an it could be the downfall of Biden’s agenda.

Debt limit: The Democrats’ current conundrum over their policy ambitions adds some context to Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s demands that they use reconciliation in order to raise the debt limit, meaning they could vote for it along party lines without GOP support. 

There isn’t going to be a national default either way — the economic consequences would be too catastrophic. The debt limit will be raised no matter what. 

But it is important that Democrats not be allowed to hold Republicans hostage with the issue. They must rather be forced to own the increase given their overarching desire to increase spending in spite of rising inflation. Democrats want nothing more than to tie the debt limit, which has to pass, with their larger spending and social change ambitions. It is essential for Republicans to avoid going along with this, as there will always be a temptation for moderates to waver if the fate of the national economy is at stake.

In insisting on a simple-majority reconciliation debt-limit increase, McConnell not only showed that Democrats can raise the debt ceiling all on their own at any time they want, but he also removed the justification that Biden had already started building up to use this as an excuse to abolish the filibuster and pursue a relatively radical agenda with the slimmest of majorities.

Court-packing: In other news about Biden’s norm-smashing presidency, his commission on Supreme Court “reform” recommended against court-packing in its preliminary report. This was followed by the news that two conservative members were quitting the panel. 

The Left’s push to pack the court reached its high tide sometime in January, it appears. Liberals are already extremely averse to accepting election outcomes. But it is intolerably irritating  to them that Trump, having won only one term as president, got to appoint three relatively young justices with the help of Republican Senate majorities. Trump will leave a more lasting impression upon the court an probably thus upon the nation than the two-term Barack Obama.

One can never know what Democrats would have done if they had won a larger Senate majority as expected in 2020 — if they had carried close races in North Carolina, Maine and Iowa. But that would have at least created a serious opportunity for them to indulge their rage with a norm-busting round of court-packing. 

As matters stand, all discussion of court-packing and filibuster-abolishing schemes has probably been pushed off at least until 2028. Because of Democrats’ poor prospects in next year’s midterm and a 2024 map that clearly favors Republicans, that will likely be the soonest that Democrats could gain both the White House and a sizeable Senate majority at the same time. 

Governor 2022

Wisconsin: In 2019, former Rep. Sean Duffy resigned from his northwest Wisconsin House seat and left public life in order to care for a baby daughter who was born with special needs. Now, local media are reporting that former President Trump is trying to pull him back in to run for governor, instead of supporting the current frontrunner, former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, to run against Democratic incumbent Tony Evers.

Senate 2022

Pennsylvania: Having received President Trump’s backing at the beginning of September, veteran and 2020 House candidate Sean Parnell raised over a million dollars in the third quarter. This leaves him trailing former Ambassador Carla Sands in terms of cash, but to add some perspective, that’s only because she loaned her campaign $3 million. 

Parnell appears to be building up more of a Trump-like small-donor base, as small donations accounted for nearly half of his haul. With substantial self-funding Sands and former lieutenant governor nominee Jeff Bartos are trying to prevent the impression from developing that the primary race is Parnell’s to lose. 

Senate 2024

Arizona: A leftist organization is out with a new poll intended to fire a shot across the bow of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema long before her 2024 re-elect race. Having resisted President Biden’s agenda, she remains the more popular senator among all voters, earlier polls show. But in a Democratic primary, she gets trounced by left-wing Rep. Ruben Gallego by an astounding 39 points.

The Left must satisfy itself with raging impotently for now. But it’s quite true that Sinema could face real consequences in a few years for going against Biden. 

On the other hand, fast-growing Arizona may not be ready for far-left representation in the Senate, as Sen. Mark Kelly’s situation is already somewhat precarious next year. Sinema’s ouster or forced retirement could be a milestone along the path toward Republicans picking up the pieces and rebuilding from 2020 in the Grand Canyon state.