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Are the Democrats Still Hoping Build Back Better Will Save Them?

Sen. Tim Kaine discusses the Build Back Better bill on CBS News' "Face the Nation" (Credit: CBS)

Will they or won’t they?

This seems to be the question everyone is asking about the Democrats’ prospects for passing the Build Back Better Act, President Joe Biden’s signature legislative proposal which would spend billions on climate change and social programs. After much deliberation over the past year, it became evident they would not pass the bill, mostly due to objections coming from Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin (WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (AZ).

At this point, it would be tempting to think Build Back Better is dead in the water. Indeed, the Democrats seem to have abandoned the proposal in favor of pushing voting rights legislation. But these proposals do not have much of a chance of passing either, which has put the Democrats in a precarious position in which they appear to be flailing about to find a winning message on which to run for the upcoming midterm elections. The Washington Examiner reported:

Democrats pivoted to voting legislation this month after ditching plans to consider President Joe Biden’s Build Back Better plan, a $1.75 trillion social welfare and green energy bill.

The voting legislation will suffer the same fate as Build Back Better, blocked by centrists who, in this instance, won’t support a change in filibuster rules to circumvent Republican opponents.

Their voting legislation doomed to fail, Democrats pivoted once again on Friday, this time turning to the $1 trillion infrastructure bill Biden signed in November that he negotiated with a bipartisan group of senators.

The Democrats might look to the infrastructure bill to be their saving grace since they are unable to pass any other meaningful legislation. “The infrastructure bill was far less popular among party liberals who said it fell short on green energy and mass transit funding,” The Examiner noted. “But intraparty gridlock has left the measure as a lone significant achievement for Democrats.”

Democrats appear to be trying to make lemonade out of lemons. The Democratic policy and communications team in the Senate recently put out a “Building back better bulletin” touting the infrastructure bill’s provision that will allocate funds toward repairing crumbling bridges. It also highlighted President Biden’s plan to implement clean energy projects and noted how the administration would be purchasing 500 million at-home COVID-19 tests amid the spread of the Omicron variant.

“The Biden Administration has taken action to increase testing supply, places people can get free tests and the types of tests authorized for use,” the bulletin explained.

However, even though Democrats are scrounging to dig up other accomplishments to highlight, they have not completely given up on Build Back Better. During an appearance on CBS News’ “Face the Nation,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) acknowledged that while the $1.75 trillion bill would not go anywhere, the “core” of the Build Back Better Act would pass. He said:

“You’re right that it’s dead. The most recent version of it is not going to happen. But if you look at the core of the bill, I think the core is education and the workforce and things like reduced childcare and education expenses, workforce training, and then support for the workforce in areas like health care. There are other pieces of the bill that are more controversial. I still believe we’re going to find a core of this bill, whatever we call it. We’re going to find a core of the bill and pass it, and it will deal directly with some of these inflation concerns.”

Kaine might be engaging in a bit of wishful thinking, but it is not out of the realm of possibility that a scaled-back version of Build Back Better could be made to be more attractive to Manchin and Sinema. This would likely require slashing most of the radical progressive provisions included in the original proposal. But it is possible Democrats could get something through Congress. The question is: Will it be enough? Depending on the provisions kept in the legislation, it might be something Democratic lawmakers can sell to their constituents as a significant victory.

It is also worth pointing out that even if Democrats manage to pass a version of Build Back Better, it might not be enough to make up for the constant incompetence of the Biden administration and the fact that Democrats have not been able to get much done in Congress. They have not done much to address inflation and other economic concerns plaguing the American public. Instead, they have focused on the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot and how bad the Orange Man is. There is no doubt Democrats know they are on thin ice. The question is: Is there still time for them to turn it around?