A desperately needed bounce in public acclaim following President Biden’s signing of the $1 trillion infrastructure proposal has yet to materialize, leaving the president wallowing in the low 40 percent range in job performance approval from a discontented and dispirited nation helpless in the face of out-of-control inflation.
Warned each day of a supply chain choked off to the point of paralysis, Americans were also pummeled by reports of double-digit percentage increases in the cost of virtually every essential item, including heating bills just as the winter season descends.
The administration response that the inflationary pressures were temporary, caused by recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns, didn’t square with the real life experiences of the American people.
For months, the administration assured the party establishment that once the warring factions in Congress called a truce and approved part one of the infrastructure package, all would be well.
But the American people did not rise to their feet in a spontaneous display of thanksgiving for the enactment of a plan to spend $1 trillion on construction and rehabilitation of roads, bridges and the like, dealing a crushing blow to Democratic hopes for reversing the growing speculation that the 2022 midterm elections would return Republicans to majority power.
Not only did the theory turn out to be badly flawed, but the $1.75 trillion second act in the infrastructure drama appears in jeopardy as progressives and moderates appear poised to clash once again over the cost and scope.
The House-approved plan is certain to be changed in significant measure by the Senate exclusively with Democratic support, teeing up yet another confrontation with the party’s strident left wing, who’ve made it clear it is prepared to leave blood on the conference room carpet if it doesn’t get its’ way.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer has established a timetable of the Christmas holiday for final Senate action. At the same time, New York Congresswoman Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, leader of the House progressives, warned any delay in Senate action or dramatic changes in the legislation could lead to a refusal by the progressives to support other administration initiatives in the future.
How much of her remarks are bluff and bluster and how much are threats and promises remains to be seen.
The outlook in the Senate for the social infrastructure bill is reasonably optimistic, a reflection of the urgency to deliver a major victory to the administration.
West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, key to success in the evenly divided Senate, is opposed to the bill’s paid family leave provisions and has continued to express concern over the proposal’s cost and the tax increases to fund it.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders has remained adamant that the bill include an expansion of Medicare to cover vision, dental and hearing treatments. He has been equally resistant to raising the cap on income tax deductions for state and local taxes (SALT), ridiculing it as a giveaway to the rich. In Bernie world, there is no great sin imaginable than coddling the wealthy.
While the effects of inflation on the country have dominated the political climate, it follows a series of mishandled issues which has called the competency of the administration into question.
The crisis of illegal immigration at the southern border, the messy and tragic withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Afghanistan, rising violent crime in many cities and the often disjointed response to meeting the COVID-19 pandemic have all contributed to the perception of an Administration in disarray.
Democrats foresee a disaster on the horizon. For the first time in decades, Republicans lead in the generic ballot – one party versus the other rather than a specific candidate matchup – an ominous portent that a landslide loss is in the making.
Supporters are fond of using the phrase “putting shovels in the ground” to describe the crucial need to restore the nation’s infrastructure to the excellence it once possessed and the envy it once attracted.
They can only hope the shovels aren’t used to prepare the final resting place for their political fortunes.
Carl Golden is a senior contributing analyst with the William J. Hughes Center for Public Policy at Stockton University in New Jersey. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org