In the 2020 presidential election, Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump by 10.1 percent in the state of Virginia. Mark Warner, the incumbent Democratic senator, saw an even larger margin of victory. A year later, Republican Glenn Youngkin defeated Democrat Terry McAuliffe by 2 percent. There are a multitude of reasons one can attribute this massive swing to. Youngkin, as Warner noted, successfully made anti-critical race theory rhetoric a large part of his campaign. Additionally, McAuliffe chose to focus his campaign on proving Youngkin would be no different than Trump, despite Youngkin keeping his focus away from the 2020 election and the former president. Despite this, perhaps the most important reason Democrats lost so much ground in Virginia and are poised to do so in next year’s midterms is that Democrats in Washington, D.C. have not done enough with their legislative majorities.
The Democrats and President Joe Biden have touted two major bills as key components of their legislative agenda: a $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Build Back Better Act, which is a $1.75 trillion social policy bill. The infrastructure bill passed in the House of Representatives, but days after McAuliffe had already lost the election in Virginia and the damage had already been done. However, the Build Back Better Act, which Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the Democrats aim to pass by Thanksgiving, could give Biden and the Democrats the boost they need after a long summer and fall. The infrastructure bill has a 65 percent approval rating among Americans and the Build Back Better Act has a 62 percent approval rating. It has been clear since the start of the Biden presidency that policies that have increased government spending are popular, as the stimulus package that the Democrats passed earlier this year was also widely popular, and helped Democrats’ approval ratings. In his 1996 State of the Union address, Bill Clinton famously claimed that “the era of big government is over,” and for the next 15 or so years was correct. Bills that increased government spending, such as the Affordable Care Act, were met with fierce opposition from Republican voters and politicians. Now, around 68 percent of Americans support a public health insurance option, including 56 percent of Republicans. Democrats need to understand that the bolder they are with their congressional majority, the more voters will reward them up and down the ballot.
There is a reason that more government spending, and particularly the infrastructure and social policy bills, are so popular. The infrastructure bill provided $39 billion for updating aging public transit, as well as an additional $66 billion for passenger and freight rail. If you have ever been on the New York City subway, any other transit run by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) or Amtrak trains, it is easy to see why increased public transit and infrastructure spending is so popular. The bill also included $21 billion for “[cleaning] up Superfund and brownfield sites” as well as “[reclaiming] abandoned mine land and cap orphaned gas wells,” according to Katie Lobosco and Tami Luhby of CNN. The Build Back Better Act, although initially written to include paid family leave, still includes almost $1 trillion total for climate spending and universal pre-K for 3- and 4-year-olds. The fate of this bill in the Senate largely depends on the votes of Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema, moderate Democratic senators from West Virginia and Arizona, respectively.
If Democrats want to avoid a complete blowout in the midterms this time next year, they absolutely must pass the Build Back Better Act. It is highly popular, and along with the infrastructure bill, would give Democrats two real accomplishments to tout on the campaign trails. Even outside of purely political thinking, the Build Back Better agenda has the potential to materially improve people’s lives. There are millions of families whose livelihoods would improve as a result of pre-K expansion or increased child care funding. Controlling both the presidency and Congress is a rare moment, and usually one that does not last long. The last time Democrats were in this position — during the first two years of Barack Obama’s first term — the 2010 midterms resulted in widespread Republican gains. The best way to prevent this from happening again is by voting bold and popular policies into law.
Theodore Brita is a sophomore majoring in political science.