How could it affect voters? Backers of Biden’s BBB refine message

High gas prices, the rising cost of a trip to the grocery store and delayed online deliveries are all taking a toll on President Joe Biden’s approval rating, which could lead to Republican gains in Congress in next year’s midterm elections.

Democrats, acutely aware that they are at political risk of losing congressional seats, aren’t sitting around waiting for Thanksgiving dinner during the holiday break.

Lawmakers back in their home districts are sponsoring numerous events to highlight specific parts of the president’s Build Back Better Act — which was passed last week by the House — as well as the $1.2 trillion infrastructure legislation signed into law earlier this month.

The BBB, as many lawmakers refer to the social spending bill, is now in the hands of the Senate.

Some Democrats concede that up to this point, they haven’t done an adequate job of explaining key provisions of the sweeping spending plan, whose price tag is currently around $2 trillion.

But Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia said he doesn’t view what Democrats are doing as a “rebranding” of the legislation.

“A huge core of Build Back Better is reducing costs for folks,” Kaine said when asked about the latest messaging by WTOP.

Kaine said the elements of the bill that he’s been focused on haven’t changed and will help families dealing with inflation by reducing their overall expenses, especially when it comes to child care.

Kaine and Democrats point to these provisions:

  • Extension of the child tax credit for a year. It provides $300 per child under 6 years old and $250 per child between the ages of 6 and 17.
  • Expansion of child care funding. The legislation seeks to make sure no family of four (earning up to $300,000) spends more 7% of their income on child care.
  • Creation of universal prekindergarten for 3- and 4-year-olds.

The legislation also would provide tens of billions of dollars to invest in affordable housing, including funding for rental assistance and development of new rental homes for low-income households.

In the area of health care, Medicare would start to cover the cost of hearing aids in 2023, though coverage for glasses and dental care were not included, to save on costs.

Medicare would be able to negotiate with drug companies over some costly drugs, which Democrats say would help drive down prescription drug prices.

“If you help American families with housing costs, with child care and educational costs, with health care and prescriptions costs, you’re helping them with inflationary issues,” Kaine said.

Congressional Democrats, in addition to touting the elements of the social spending plan, are also continuing to hold events to point to what can be done with passage of the $1.2 bipartisan infrastructure bill.

U.S. Sen Chris Van Hollen of Maryland joined U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg in Baltimore on Tuesday, to highlight at $22 million federal grant to improve local public transit.

Many congressional Republicans argue that the latest federal spending — and plans for spending — will only make inflation worse. They have repeatedly criticized Democrats for not doing enough to address issues related to inflation, which has risen to its highest level in nearly three decades.

A recent CBS News Poll finds that 67% of Americans disapprove of the president’s handling of inflation, while only 33% approve.

Still, the poll also shows that 58% approve of the infrastructure bill passed by Congress.

Thirteen House Republicans voted for the infrastructure bill earlier this month. Even though infrastructure has historically been a bipartisan issue, some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus singled out the GOP lawmakers as “traitors” and Rep. Fred Upton, a Michigan Republican, received hundreds of angry calls, including death threats.

In the highly polarized political environment, Democrats are trying to highlight positive elements from the infrastructure bill as well as the president’s social spending plan.

They’re trying to push back on Republican efforts to characterize the BBB as wasteful spending that will only make Americans’ lives worse.

Some Democrats point to mistakes they believe were made more than a decade ago, after the passage of the Affordable Care Act — also known as Obamacare.

While polls show the legislation is now generally supported by a majority of Americans, soon after it was passed, Republicans continually criticized it.

Aided in part by that criticism, as well as issues related to the economy, Republicans knocked 63 House Democrats out of office in 2010.

Kaine and Democrats say they need to keep emphasizing their legislative accomplishments and point to how they can help average Americans.

“It’s not a rebranding,” Kaine said. “These are the component parts that were in the framework that I helped negotiate as a member of the Budget Committee in July.”

He added, “They’re still there because we want to make sure American families can feel some relief from inflation.”

The Senate will take up the legislation when lawmakers return after the Thanksgiving break.

Mitchell Miller

Mitchell Miller has worked at WTOP since 1996, as a producer, editor, reporter and Senior News Director. After working "behind the scenes," coordinating coverage and reporter coverage for years, Mitchell moved back to his first love -- reporting. He is now WTOP's Capitol Hill reporter.

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