In poll after poll over the past year, President Joe Biden's economic plans have proven enormously popular, yet the same polls showed that barely any Americans knew what they were.
New polling from the progressive polling consortium Navigator Research finds that less than half of Americans are hearing about Biden's economic plans. Just 15% said they had heard "a lot," 31% reported hearing "some," and 54% said either not much or nothing at all.
Navigator writes, "Independents and economically persuadable Americans are the least likely to have heard about the plan (65% and 67%, respectively)."
At the same time, the polling showed the economic plans of Biden and Democrats hitting an "all-time high level of support." The Navigator question centers around Democratic efforts to expand Medicare for seniors to include hearing coverage, lower health care costs by allowing Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices, and invest in clean energy like wind and solar power.
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But the problem all along with Biden’s Build Back Better agenda has been the fact that the massive economic package is simply too broad to message in discrete ways that were easy for most Americans to digest.
Democrats have structured several bills like this for a strategic reason: They needed to pack everything into a budget bill that could be passed by 50 Democratic senators alone, because Republicans were never going to back an economic agenda that helped Americans and was so broadly popular.
In other words, Democrats were doing their level best to deliver actual legislation that would help working families across the country. But as we all know, two recalcitrant Democratic senators have singlehandedly stymied the promise of improving the lives of tens of millions of Americans.
So it's time for a total reset. We are now in the thick of election season, and the White House absolutely must restructure their legislative priorities in a way that shifts the burden of passage away from Democrats (48 of whom are trying to help Americans) and onto to Republicans (some 50 of whom have proven they have no desire to help Americans).
Practically speaking, that means the White House would pick several enormously popular policies—such as capping insulin prices and the child tax credit that recently expired—and take them up individually in the Senate, where they will automatically require 60 votes to pass. Moving away from the 50-vote reconciliation scheme to the 60 votes required to overcome a GOP filibuster shifts the burden of passage from Democrats to Republicans in an electoral year.
As former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told The Focus Group podcast this week, "Look, if I was them, I would pick a fight on a few of these things. So you're not going to get a $3.5 trillion piece of legislation, get into a fight about a larger prescription drug pricing bill, right. Run the vote on that."
Exactly: Run the vote and get congressional Republicans voting against some very popular items, likely in lock step or close to it.
Importantly, all of the issues mentioned above can be framed around an effort to address voters' No. 1 concern right now: inflation. The child tax credit, for instance, is an effort to help families who are struggling to pay for the rising costs of food, gas prices, and child care.
Capping insulin prices at $35 per month has the benefit of already being in process. House Democrats passed the Affordable Insulin Now Act two weeks ago, with 193 Republicans voting against it—nearly the entire GOP caucus.
Despite the bill's unanimous Democratic support, a CBS News article summed up the next steps in the Senate this way:
For the legislation to pass Congress, 10 Republican senators would have to vote in favor. Democrats acknowledge they don't have an answer for how that's going to happen.
That's where the messaging comes in: Democrats shouldn't be answering for why Republicans won't provide a mere 10 votes to pass popular bills through the Senate. When a reporter asks the question, Senate Democrats should respond, "Why don't you ask Republican senators why they won't vote for the bill?"
Senate Democrats must constantly drive home the fact that Republicans are filibustering these very popular common-sense items. But in order to do so, they must have single-issue bills and then run the vote in the Senate rather than strategically trying to attach them to some bigger bill.
Yes, it's going to require a little showmanship and messaging discipline on the part of Democrats. But if the White House were driving the message from the top, it would trickle down through Congress and perhaps all the way into the districts and states that will ultimately decide who controls Congress in November.
The other benefit of the White House leading the fight is that it gives President Biden a chance to be out there championing policies that matter to working Americans—people he genuinely cares about. In both polling and focus groups alike, Americans constantly say they don't hear enough from Biden, they don't know what he's doing, etc.
If Democrats and the White House were all singing from the same song sheet on several popular items, it would create a self-reinforcing echo chamber. Suddenly Biden wouldn't seem so absent from the conversation because the White House messaging would be reverberating through Congress.
Election season has begun in earnest, and Democrats must adjust to it in the legislative arena. Every day spent talking about Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona is a bad news day for Democrats and the White House.
If the White House sets its sights on two or three items specifically designed to help Americans weather inflation and then makes a spectacle of them, that would provide congressional Democrats with the contrast they need to prosecute an electoral campaign against Republicans and the big-money interests that control them.
One of Biden’s items, by the way, could be student debt relief, which the president could do by executive order. And if that executive action ends up in the courts, it's another fight worth having on behalf of Americans struggling to emerge from crushing debt and the nation's broken student loan system.
On the Focus Group podcast, host Sarah Longwell noted that student debt cancellation comes up "all the time" in the Democratic focus groups. "Especially among young voters, nothing comes up more than that," said Longwell, who routinely conducts the groups.
In short, Democrats need to show some fight, and to do so they must restructure their legislative battles in the Senate so the main feature becomes the contrast between Democrats fighting for working Americans versus Republicans protecting the interests of wealthy individuals and corporations.
And by the way, if you want to see a real loser at the polls, GOP Sen. Rick Scott's plan to raise taxes on roughly 100 million working Americans garners 27% support and 59% opposition in the latest Navigator survey.
That dystopian hellscape of a plan offers the perfect contrast for Democrats. Let Republicans fight over whether or not they would actually enact Scott’s 11-point plan if they regained their majorities. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to articulate an alternative vision—Scott’s is the only one in writing.