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Picking Their Fights

todayOctober 25, 2021 2

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Carl has been reporting on Washington politics since the 1980s, and he says he has covered only one program of any significance that Congress started but did not continue: the Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act of 1988. It proved to be unpopular because it failed to provide the benefits that older Americans expected.

Most policies in the Democrats’ original proposal seem unlikely to suffer from that problem. They would provide thousands of dollars a year, in direct payments or benefits, to many families.

Still, Republican opposition to the bill is sufficiently strong that it’s easy to imagine a future Congress, controlled at least partly by Republicans, refusing to extend the programs. And that’s where the unappreciated political advantage for Democrats comes into play.

In American politics today, Republicans often try to emphasize a set of social issues on which many Democrats — especially progressives who receive a lot of media attention — are to the left of public opinion.

On immigration, some Democrats have become uncomfortable talking about almost any deportations or border security; most Americans, by contrast, favor immigration enforcement. On policing, progressive activists popularized the slogan “defund the police;” most voters — including most voters of color — oppose cuts to police budgets. On abortion, many Democrats oppose almost all restrictions; most Americans favor at least some.

It’s not that a majority of Americans necessarily favors the Republican positions on these issues. The problem for Democrats is that they have left themselves vulnerable to accusations of being extreme. (In the current Virginia governor’s campaign, the Republican nominee, Glenn Youngkin, is trying to pull off an upset with this strategy.)

The politics of economic policies tend to be different — and more favorable to Democrats.

By passing a bill with temporary programs in it, Democrats would be ensuring that the next few years would be filled with debates over economic issues, like the child tax credit, pre-K, paid family leave and Medicare. Republicans would much rather be talking about crime, immigration or critical race theory instead.

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todayOctober 25, 2021