Passing Biden’s Infrastructure Bills Remains Key to Winning 2022 Midterms— Ask Democratic Congressmember Abigail Spanberger October 6, 2021
Let me make this point front and center. Turnout, of course, is key to Democrats adding to our small 5-point House Majority and 50-50 Senate tie in the 2022 midterm elections. Yes, Democrats can attack Demagogue Donald as a threat to democracy and tie the many GOP candidates to him that yearn for his 2024 “restoration” to the Oval Office. We can continue to point out how loony the GQP, G rand Q anon P arty, remains with the likes of conspiracy wackos Cong. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) and Lauren Boebert (R-CO). We can shout how all of “Team Red” and its obstructive Senate leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are doing everything they can to destroy President Biden’s progressive agenda. None of this will matter. The American people elected a Democratic Congress as well as President Biden because they expect them to govern by passing crucial legislation that will give them jobs and financial aid. Republicans are seen as the “I won’t do anything party.” Democrats are held to a higher standard. If Biden fails to enact his two major “Build Back Better” infrastructure programs before the 2022 midterm elections, because his Democratic majority keeps bickering about the money involved or the programs it should cover, moderates will turn against us as incompetent. They will vote for the GOP to take over the House and Senate in 2022. Many of our own base will stay home because our own congressional legislators did not successfully enact Biden’s key promises. Biden will be unable to show the American people that government can work for them. His attempt to pass strong legislation similar to LBJ’s 1960’s Great Society and even FDR’s New Deal will be in tatters. His presidency will be judged a failure.
On 9/30/2021 and again on 10/01/2021, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) had to cancel a vote on President Biden’s key two infrastructure bills that were supposed to pass the House. Members of the 100-member Progressive Democratic Caucus refused to vote in favor of these two bills, and she could only afford 3 Democratic defectors. No GOPers, of course, would vote in favor of these bills, even though a few of them had initially voted for some of Biden’s infrastructure agenda. The Democratic Progressive Caucus, under the leadership of chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA), refused to vote for the popular $1 trillion infrastructure bill for roads and bridges unless work had been completed on the second part of Biden’s infrastructure agenda, the social safety net. That second part included, among other items, funding climate change, subsidies for child care, and aid to community colleges. The social safety net second part of Bidens’ “Build Back Better” agenda would cost $3.5 trillion. Progressives feared that if they passed both these bills in the House, conservative Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WVA) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), would radically gut or completely destroy the social safety net provisions (latimes.com, Haberkorn, 10/01/21, Haberkorn & McCaskill 10/02/21). The social safety part of the bill could only pass via reconciliation with a 51-49 vote. VP Kamala Harris would be the tie breaker defeating a GOP filibuster. Even a personal 10/01/2021 visit from President Biden to the House in which he pushed for passage of both these bills did not move the progressives to vote for both bills that day.
During that visit, Biden told the progressives that he stood behind their keeping both parts of his “Build Back Agenda” together and not decoupling them, which some moderates had wanted. However, Pres. Biden told House progressives that they would have to compromise on the social safety net package by taking its price tag down from $3.5 trillion to $2 trillion. Biden forcefully added, “It doesn’t matter whether it is six minutes, six days or six weeks. We’re going to get it done.” With Biden’s pushing House Democrats for a $2 trillion safety net budget, he will, hopefully, get Sen. Manchin, who wants spending on the social safety part of the infrastructure bill at $1.5 trillion, to reach an agreement (latimes.com, Haberkorn & McCaskill,10/02/21). Most analysts praised Biden for his comments and his getting the progressives to keep negotiating (See cnn.com). Most progressives were looking for a signal from Biden on how and where to compromise. Now, comes the hard part. House Democrats will have to decide how to pare down their social safety net budget to $2 trillion. There are several options. They can save all the programs in the safety net part of the bill, but slash off a bit of each program, in effect, weakening them all. A second option, which Biden told the House members he was leaning toward, would be to decide just which programs were the most important to keep in this legislation, and limit for a few years how long these benefits would last. When these benefits would be due to expire, Democrats would dare GOPers, if they controlled Congress or the White House at that time, to “undo those popular programs,” at their own political peril (See latimes.com, Haberkorn & McCaskill, 10/02/21). A third option would be to continue funding all those programs robustly, but through delayed timing. This is what Democrats did with health care. When it passed in 2010, they delayed insurance subsidies and exchanges for three or four years to save money. However, many politically vulnerable “Team Blue” congressmembers were defeated in 2010 because these politically popular benefits were not immediately visible to the public. IMHO, Biden’s limiting the safety net to popular programs and daring the GOP not to extend them is probably the best solution. However, to reach the budgetary demands of congressional moderates and Senators Manchin and Sinema, all of these options will probably have to be used, according to VA Dem Sen. Tim Kaine (latimes.com, Haberkorn & McCaskill, 10/02/21).
In any event, to quote Biden, both parts of this infrastructure bill must be passed. Or as FDR said during his New Deal administration, “Above all else, do something.” Many of the members of the Progressive Democratic Caucus come from ultra-safe “Blue” districts. They have to understand that Democrats recaptured the House in 2018 and kept it in 2020 because they won not only in their safe districts but also in “swing districts,” districts up for grabs, including some that lean GOP. One of the Congressmembers in such a swing district is Abigail Spanberger. Moderate Spanberger, who twice narrowly won a district long dominated by GOPers, aptly stated, “Success begets success. A win on infrastructure would have propelled the President’s other priorities forward (nytimes.com, 10/01/21, Weisman & Cochrane).” Meet Congressmember Spanberger.
Second-term Congressmember Abigail Spanberger (42) presently represents Virgina’s 7th Congressional District (CD), suburban Richmond. The current VA 7th sprawls across 120 miles. It goes from southwest of Richmond, VA’s capital, to the outer reaches of the D.C. exurbs and spreads into the countryside. It remains centered in Henrico and Chesterfield Counties. Both Henrico, where Richmond is located, and Chesterfield Counties contain about one-third of the 7th’s population. Richmond, in VA’s 4th CD, still sets the tone for the suburban 7th and the rest of the state with its banks, law firms, and the Richmond Times Dispatch (Cohen & Cook 2022 Political Almanac).
Politically, the VA 7th has changed. With its strong growth, the 7th no longer constitutes the Old South. Some of the 7th’s areas are closer in outlook to Washington D.C. Previously, Henrico County was the key to VA’s GOP coalition. In 1964, it gave GOPer Barry Goldwater 70% of its vote. In the past two decades, demographic change and the movement of suburbanites toward Democrats have changed the 7th’s political makeup. Obama became the first Democratic to carry Henrico since FDR. In 2016, Hillary took 58% of Henrico’s vote. In 2020, Biden captured 64% of Henrico. In 2019, Henrico County was 31% black and 6% Hispanic. Chesterfield County, south of Richmond, was formerly exurban and GOP. With strong population growth and increases to 25% black and 10% Hispanic residents, Chesterfield has surpassed Henrico population-wise and is politically more competitive. Biden beat Trump in Chesterfield by 6 points, while Dole clobbered Bill Clinton there in 1996 by 28. The VA 7th still remains very swingy, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) of R+3. The 7th’s outlying parts remain rural and heavily GOP. Spotsylvania and Culpeper Counties are D.C. exurbs. Their population has increased by 50% from 2000-2019, and consists of voters wanting to get away from the metro area. The 2016 redistricting made the 7th slightly more Democratic by adding areas from the solid “Blue” 4th CD and moving two GOP counties north and east of Richmond to another district. In 2016, Trump won the 7th by 6 points. In 2020, Biden prevailed in the 7th CD by one point, 50%-49% (Cohen & Cook 2022).
New Jersey native Abigail Spanberger moved with her family to a Richmond, VA suburb where she attended high school. She was a congressional page to former VA Dem. Senator Chuck Robb. She graduated from the University of VA with a degree in French literature in 2001 and received an MBA while living in Germany. She became a law enforcement officer with the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. She worked on money laundering and narcotics cases (Cohen & Cook 2022, washingtonexaminer.com, 5/30/18). In 2006, Spanberger joined the CIA as an operations officer. She used her foreign language knowledge and overseas experiences to gather intelligence about nuclear proliferation and terrorism (Cohen & Cook 2022, chesterfieldobserver.com). She left the CIA in 2014 and joined a consulting firm that specialized in higher education. In 2017, Dem. Gov. Terry McAuliffe appointed her to the VA Fair Housing Board (Cohen & Cook 2022, msn.com, Hall, 11/05/20).
Spanberger decided to run for the VA 7th CD seat occupied by Tea Party GOPer Dave Brat in 2018. Brat was the fellow who in a 2014 primary upset former GOP House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. Brat accused Cantor of “daring to talk” with Democrats about immigration, even though Cantor opposed Democrats on immigration reform. Spanberger decided to oppose Brat because he voted with the House GOP majority to repeal Obamacare (Cohen & Cook 2022, washingtonexaminer.com). Spanberger faced a tough general election. She spoke of not just attacking Trump but working for productive solutions to problems. The Congressional Leadership Fund Super PAC caused controversy when it released a confidential security-clearance application which showed that she had taught for a short time in a D.C. area school that was financed by Saudi Arabia. GOPers falsely accused her in ads of “aiding terrorists.” Spanberger hit back by calling the ad a smear, and declared she had spent her career on the “front line” fighting terrorists. In a debate, Brat accused Spanberger of supporting undocumented immigrants and linking her to the “Nancy Pelosi liberal agenda.” Spanberger called such charges “frankly comical.” Spanberger won this race by a 1.9% margin. Brat won the 7th’s eight rural counties, but Spanberger took the two largest counties, Henrico with 59% of the vote, and Chesterfield with 54%. Trump adviser Steve Bannon called the VA 7th “an absolute bellwether of the entire country.” He added that losing the district would mean losing GOP control of the House. Democrats took back the House in 2018, and Spanberger ended the GOP’s 36-year hold on this district (Cohen & Cook 2022, motherjones.com, 11/2018). In 2020, Spanberger, in another close race, defeated conservative Club for Growth favorite, Nick Freitas, by a similar 1.8% margin. Again, she won by taking Henrico and Chesterfield Counties with 61% and 55% of the vote. Biden’s winning this district helped Spanberger. Freitas won the rural counties by double digit margins (Cohen & Cook 2022).
In the House, Cong. Spanberger sits on the Agriculture and Foreign Affairs Committees. The agriculture post is a key one for her district. With her background, she is a perfect fit for Foreign Affairs. She is a leader among centrist Democrats. She rightly voices concern that leaders of the progressive movement don’t realize that maintaining the majority requires that Democrats remain palatable in conservative districts. She told the NY Times, “There’s some people that just think that we’re out of touch and that if we just worked hard, more Democrats would come out of the woodwork and so we should just try to say all the things that excite all the Democrats. You can say that until you’re blue in the face, but there are just not that many Democrats in my district.” She attributed Democrats hurting her fellow moderates’ chances by saying “socialism” and “defund the police when that’s not what we mean (Cohen & Cook 2022).” Exactly. We have just a five seat House Majority and a 50-50 Senate because too many Democrats voiced this extreme rhetoric. That is why we have to deal with the likes of Sens. Manchin & Sinema.
Cong. Spanberger’s CIA background was instrumental in getting Trump impeached over his pressuring Ukraine to “find dirt on Biden.” In 9/2019, Cong. Spanberger signed on to an op-ed column in the Washington Post with six other members of her freshman class with similar national security/ military backgrounds. They stated that Trump should face an impeachment inquiry on this matter. After reading this op-ed, Speaker Pelosi, who was hesitant about backing an impeachment investigation, changed her mind. If Spanberger and her fellow national security moderates were arguing that Trump’s conduct involving Ukraine was a strong violation of what our nation stood for, an impeachment inquiry would be widely accepted by most Democrats. GOPers were furious with Cong. Spanberger for daring to attack Donald “for his ‘perfect phone call’ to Ukrainian leader Zelinsky (See Cohen & Cook, 2022).”
Even though Cong. Spanberger represents moderates in Congress and is a member of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition and centrist Problem Solvers Caucus, she is also a member of the LGBT Equality Caucus. When Trump was in office, she only voted with him 6.9% of the time in her very politically divided district (FiveThirtyEight vote tracker). As of 9/2021, Cong. Spanberger has voted in line with President Biden’s positions 100% of the time (projects.fivethirtyeight.com, Bycoffe et al). She has held town halls in every county of her district, voted against Pelosi as Speaker in 2019, and voted for a replacement to the North American Free Trade Agreement to placate her conservative constituents. However, her record is courageously and overwhelmingly progressive for a Democrat in a GOP-leaning swingy district. Spanberger is pro-choice (Wilson, P., richmond.com, 10/27/18). She criticized Trump’s regressive top 1% tax cut and called climate change, “one of the greatest and most imminent threats to our economy, our national security, and our way of life.” She stands up to “attacks against science (Wilson, richmond.com, 10/27/18, McCue, “The WELL,” 5/03/19).” As previously noted, Cong. Spanberger supports Obamacare, a public healthcare option, and wants to reduce prescription drug costs. Cong. Spanberger opposed Trump’s proposed border wall. She objected to Trump’s Muslim travel ban, because it would aid “jihahdist propaganda attacking the U.S. as anti-Muslim.” She is in favor of a pathway to legal status for undocumented law-abiding immigrants (Wilson, richmond.com,10/27/18, Flynn, washingtonpost.com).
If Democrats and their voters are truly the “smart party,” show it. House progressives must pass the social safety net part of Biden’s infrastructure legislation ASAP. Such action includes compromising on programs when it’s necessary. Compromise, remember, is required to successfully pass most legislation, and certainly these major programs. Let Biden handle Senators Manchin and Sinema. If moderate Democratic congressmembers do not soon receive funds for highways, bridges, and social spending that their constituents need and want, the 2022 midterms will be, to paraphrase the words of baseball great Yogi Berra “déjà vu 2010 all over again.” Spanberger and her fellow vulnerable Democratic Congressmembers will go down in 2022 and “Team Red” will take back both the House and the Senate. In 2024, without passage of this major legislation, Democrats could also lose the White House to Trump or one of his wannabes. I repeat, pass Biden’s infrastructure bills ASAP. Failure is NOT an option.