Dear Democratic members of Congress: When it comes to enacting sweeping legislation that helps Americans, forget the cliché “Go big or go home.” You should think of it more as, “Go big or you are done.”
Forget the cliché “Go big or go home.” You should think of it more as, “Go big or you are done.”
Let me be clear: This is not threatening more progressive primary challengers to Democrats in the House and the Senate up for re-election in 2022. That may happen, but the stark reality is that, specifically in a president’s first term in office, the president's party traditionally loses seats in Congress in the midterm election.
Democrats lost 63 House seats and six in the Senate under Barack Obama in 2010. In 2018, the GOP lost 41 House seats under Donald Trump. This should scare the crap out of Democrats given their slim margins of majority: 10 seats in the House; one in the Senate.
But all is not lost, Democrats. There have been a few midterm elections in which the president’s party actually picked up seats. The apparent lesson from these cases is that if President Joe Biden — whose approval rating is approximately 54 percent right now — can see that number climb into the mid-60s, the 2022 midterms could see Democrats hold on to Congress.
But the question is, how do you build on Biden’s popularity? Well, look no further than Franklin D. Roosevelt.
Roosevelt came to office in 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, with Americans in dire need of relief. FDR responded by enacting in his first 100 days numerous grand-scale programs that made a difference in people’s lives, like the Public Works Administration, which created jobs by funding larger projects, such as power plants and hospitals. Voters responded in the 1934 midterms by giving Democrats nine additional House and Senate seats.
While our nation is not reliving the Great Depression, we are still in the midst of both a deadly pandemic and deep economic pain.
While our nation is not reliving the Great Depression, we are still in the midst of both a deadly pandemic and deep economic pain. More than 19 million Americans are currently collecting some form of unemployment benefits. Distressingly, recent reports find that 41 percent of American families making less than $25,000 a year reported not having enough food to eat, a number that includes millions of children. Adding to that, Covid-19 is still claiming the lives of nearly 2,000 Americans per day.
If there was ever a time for Democrats to go big, it’s now. It’s the only way not to lose badly come 2022. Period. And the GOP knows this, which is why on Saturday every single House Republican voted against Biden’s $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief plan. The GOP knows that every day they can prevent Democrats from delivering on helping Americans, it’s a good day for their 2022 electoral prospects.
That means more than the Covid-19 relief bill — which is a great start with its direct stimulus payments of $1,400 to most Americans, funding to reopen schools, extension of unemployment benefits and much more. Delivering for Americans is also about raising the minimum wage, enacting proposed federal legislation to protect people’s right to vote, which is under assault by the GOP, addressing criminal justice reform, tackling climate change and more.
Distressingly, recent reports find that 41 percent of American families making less than $25,000 a year reported not having enough food to eat.
Not every measure needs to pass in the next two years, but at least some must. Near the top of that list: Raising the minimum wage to $15 over five years, which besides being a policy that will help increase the wages of 32 million workers and reduce poverty, has the support of nearly 60 percent of Americans.
True, the Senate parliamentarian recently ruled that the minimum wage increase cannot be part of the Covid-19 relief bill due to arcane Senate rules, but that absolutely can’t be end of this fight. Does any Democrat seeking re-election in 2022 think blaming the Senate parliamentarian for not enacting a minimum wage increase is a winning argument? How is that campaign ad supposed to resonate with voters?
For that matter, does any Democrat believe blaming the Senate’s woefully out-of-date filibuster rule as the reason for not enacting programs will inspire voters to come out and vote for Democrats in 2022? The filibuster has been called a lot of choice words lately, but one thing it is for sure is a way to depress Democratic voter turnout in 2022 — and the Senate GOP knows it.
Standing in the way of ending the filibuster are Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona. Their opposition to ending this “Jim Crow relic,” as Obama called it, will not just deprive millions of Americans of a livable minimum wage and guaranteed access to the polls, but it will also almost definitely result in Democrats losing control of the House and the Senate in 2022.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison — a former member of Congress — suggested on my SiriusXM show earlier this week that Democratic leaders campaign in both Manchin's and Sinema’s home states to build grassroots support to pressure them to end the filibuster. “You gotta turn up the temperature on them,” he said.
Whatever the approach, ending the filibuster is the only way Democrats can deliver. Because there’s simply no way 10 Republican senators will join with Democrats to support these sweeping programs, no matter how necessary or how much they’d also help their red state constituents. The Democratic Party controls Washington and it’s time to act like it. If not, by 2023 we will yet again be discussing how much of a bummer it is that the GOP controls Congress.