There’s plenty of action on Capitol Hill, and not all of it has to do with the Jan. 6 Commission. Washington’s power and the future of American free enterprise hinge on how the drama surrounding the infrastructure legislation plays out.
A group of Republican senators led by Ohio’s Rob Portman are negotiating with Democrats on a bipartisan bill that, depending on what’s agreed to, might be imperfect legislation that’s decidedly useful to support. At the same time, Democratic Sens. Chuck Schumer and Bernie Sanders along with their House counterparts are preparing the $3.5 trillion American Jobs Plan for passage on a straight party-line vote.
But will most Americans accept the gigantic expansion of government contemplated by the AJP? The legislation implements confiscatory taxes to fund a cradle-to-grave welfare state, likely producing sclerotic growth in jobs and wages and pressure to raise taxes still higher to fund the left’s vision.
Republicans have to make these consequences clear to voters, but it won’t be all that easy. The climate for Democratic attempts to expand government is better than it has been in decades. The country has moved left. A March 2019 Pew Research poll found the country equally divided—47% favored “smaller government, fewer services” while 47% favored “bigger government, more services.” Less than 20 years ago, “smaller government” had over half the country’s support, while “bigger government” had closer to a third.
Still, some very important voters have concerns today about the AJP and the trillions it would add to the federal budget and debt. A Harris X poll commissioned by No Labels, a centrist political group, surveyed 12,000 voters from July 16-21 in 20 swing districts and 13 districts of members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group composed of equal numbers of Democratic and Republican House middle-of-the-roaders.
The poll found that 72% of voters support the smaller $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill—while 76% don’t want its approval linked to the AJP. (The survey described the AJP as “a $3.5 trillion spending plan—supported by only Democrats and no Republicans—investing in education, housing, child and elder care and other social initiatives, as well as clean energy and climate change provisions.”)
Even with this positive description of the AJP, 61% still insist they’ll support the bill only if it receives “bipartisan backing,” which of course it won’t have. The White House and congressional Democrats want to jam through as many left-wing programs they can before they likely lose control of Congress next year.
The combined spending of the bipartisan and strictly partisan packages—$4.7 trillion—raised concerns among voters in the No Labels poll about “higher tax increases down the line” (78%); “impact on . . . runaway inflation” (74%); “economic uncertainty” (73%); and “lower economic growth” and “negative impact . . . for family finances” (both 69%). Remember: These numbers come from swing districts where control of the House will be settled next year.
These concerns will likely only grow as more Americans become aware of AJP’s true scope and cost. The bill drafters have kept AJP’s price tag under $3.5 trillion by pretending some elements will end before the 10-year budgeting window runs out. As I noted in last week’s column, the Committee for Responsible Federal Budget estimates that without gimmicks, the AJP’s true cost is more than $5 trillion.
This massive spending bill has huge implications for the national debt and the economy’s future. The AJP’s expansion of the federal government’s power and creation of many new welfare benefits—none apparently with work requirements—may be hard to undo. If Republicans get this across to voters, it will add to the GOP’S gains in the 2022 midterms.
If in completing the bipartisan infrastructure bill Republicans protect the 2017 tax cuts, use money from unspent Covid appropriations to pay for much of the measure, and keep to a minimum the breaks Democrats are seeking for favored special interests, then passage would strengthen GOP credibility as it opposes the AJP.
The fight against the AJP is complicated because Republicans damaged their standing as champions of fiscal responsibility over the past half-decade by showing less concern about spending and deficits than they should have. Nor does it help that the last Republican president is fixated on making 2022 about his past election defeat rather than the country’s future.
Still, conservatives must stop the AJP from fundamentally transforming the country. With Congress narrowly divided, it’s critical Republicans get the messaging right and win the hearts and minds of swing voters in the midterms.