Democrats’ Infrastructure Pitch Runs Into Confusion Back Home

  • Moderates see infrastructure bill as easier pitch than budget
  • GOP attacking more costly budget reconciliation measure

When Rep. Kurt Schrader speaks to his constituents about the infrastructure bill, he sometimes has to clarify what he’s talking about.

The Oregon Democrat said the bipartisan $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill is “a very clear cut, huge win for America.” But voters are confusing it with the $3.5 trillion budget reconciliation package, which Schrader called “divisive.”

“Folks back home are starting to get very concerned about how much money we’re spending,” Schrader said in an interview from his swing-district. “And I think that’s a legitimate concern.”

Messaging around the infrastructure bill (H.R. 3684) is proving to be a tripwire for some Democrats as they attempt to sell the bill in their districts during the recess. Part of the challenge stems from the two-track process Democrats are using, tying the passage of the bipartisan infrastructure package that’s loaded with popular transportation projects to the larger, partisan reconciliation bill that would fund an array of social and domestic programs.

Photographer: Sarah Silbiger/Bloomberg
Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said there is a confusion in his district over the infrastructure and budget reconciliation measures.

Nine centrist Democrats, including Schrader, are trying to break the link between the two bills up by threatening in an Aug. 12 letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) they won’t vote for the budget resolution when it comes to the House floor the week of Aug. 23.

House Democrats Hope to Defy History by Touting Legislative Wins

Democrats’ messaging on both bills can make or break them in the 2022 midterms, their strategists say. When Democrats passed aid following the 2008 financial crisis, the party still did poorly in the following election, said Cole Leiter, a strategist who formerly worked with the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

“Democrats readily admit they made a mistake in not selling the recovery in 2010,” he said. “And they are not making that mistake again.”

Back home, Democrats are already beginning to tout the infrastructure bill’s investment in roads, highways, water and broadband. Yet telling voters about what you will do isn’t the same as telling them what you’ve done, said Kristen Hawn, a Democratic strategist.

“In my experience, it’s not the same as when you’ve actually voted for it, and taken action on it, and the president signed it,” she said. “Until it’s signed into law, it really does make a difference when you’re communicating to voters.”

Inflation Attacks

The not-yet-written reconciliation bill is shaping up to be a tougher sell in swing-districts. The House GOP’s campaign arm has begun referring to the measure as “socialist garbage,” and the conservative American Action Network announced it will spend $5 million on TV and digital attack ads in 21 Democrat-held districts. The ads tie the $3.5 trillion package to inflation and rising prices at the gas pump and grocery store – “a hidden tax on the working class” according to the ad.

One of the lawmakers targeted, Rep. Susie Lee (D-Nev.), said her Las Vegas district had suffered from Covid-19 and a drought. Referring to the infrastructure measure, she said in a statement it would be a “disservice to all Americans to hold the bill hostage.”

Like Schrader, Lee is a member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, which worked closely with the group of senators of both parties who negotiated the infrastructure bill, making a legislative win more personal.

“We finally have an opportunity to show the American people that Democrats and Republicans can, in fact, work together to deliver real results,” she said.

House Showdown

The threat from the nine moderate Democrats to oppose the budget resolution sets up a showdown in the narrowly divided House, where it only takes four Democrats to block legislation if all Republicans oppose the measure.

So far, Pelosi has yet to budge on her plan to delay the infrastructure vote until the Senate passes reconciliation.

If the infrastructure bill comes to a vote before the reconciliation package, a majority of the 96-member Congressional Progressive Caucus said they won’t support it, according to a survey done by the caucus. Progressive members worry that if they pass infrastructure now, moderates will lack the political will to pass their priorities in the reconciliation bill including an expansion of Medicare, funding for child care and elder care, climate change policies and a pathway to citizenship for certain undocumented immigrants .

To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at ewilkins@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Bennett Roth at broth@bgov.com; Robin Meszoly at rmeszoly@bgov.com

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