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On the Trail: Instant fireworks in NH over U.S. House passage of Democrats’ spending bill

  • US President Joe Biden (left) and US Vice President Kamala Harris arrive during a signing ceremony for H.R. 3684, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, DC on Nov. 15, 2021. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images/TNS) Mandel Ngan/AFP

For the Monitor
Published: 11/19/2021 3:49:55 PM

Minutes after a bitterly divided U.S. House of Representatives handed President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats a major victory in their push to pass a sweeping partisan social spending and climate change package, the tweets and emails in New Hampshire’s political world started flying.

“Pappas Votes to Lower Everyday Costs for New Hampshire Families,” read the headline in an email from the office of Democratic Rep. Chris Pappas, who represents New Hampshire’s First Congressional District.

And longtime Rep. Annie Kuster, the Democrat from Hopkinton who represents the state’s Second Congressional District, tweeted that the nearly $2 trillion social-spending and climate change-combating measure was “a big deal for NH” and added in a statement that “Today is a monumental day for New Hampshire.”

The Democratic majority in the House passed the bill along party lines, with only one Democrat opposing the measure. That lawmaker was Rep. Jared Golden of neighboring Maine. Every Republican in the chamber opposed the bill, which now heads to the Senate, where it will likely be trimmed over the coming weeks.

“While we have details left to finalize through the Senate process, the House-passed economic package includes important provisions that would help lower costs for Granite Staters and get people back to work,” Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan emphasized in a statement.

The dean of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegation – Sen. Jeanne Shaheen – spotlighted in her statement that the “legislation builds on Democrats’ determination to deliver assistance to our states and put money in the pockets of middle-class families.”

The delegation’s emphasis on lowering costs for average Americans as they all highlighted the benefits in the spending plan for Granite Staters is no surprise. The rise in inflation this summer and autumn has fueled the deteriorating political climate for Democrats a year ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, when the party aims to defend its razor-thin majorities in the U.S. House and Senate. Hassan, Kuster and Pappas are all up for reelection next year.

“Democrats have completely abandoned hardworking Granite Staters by voting for Joe Biden’s ‘Build Back Broke’ agenda, which is a huge tax cut for the wealthiest Americans and a slap in the face to Granite Staters who are already experiencing skyrocketing prices and economic hardships thanks to Biden, Andrew Mahaleris, the Republican National Committee’s spokesperson in New Hampshire, charged in a statement.

And Mahaleris predicted that “this reckless vote will cost Chris Pappas and Annie Kuster their seats next November.”

While Kuster’s 2nd CD seat appears safe for Democrats, Pappas is being heavily targeted by Republicans in the 1st CD, which for a generation’s been one of the nation’s top congressional battlegrounds.

“Rep. Chris Pappas Delivers Huge Win for New Hampshire with Historic Build Back Better Act,” argued the headline from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the reelection arm of House Democrats.

But Republican Matt Mowers, the 2020 GOP nominee in the 1st CD who’s running again in 2022, charged that Pappas “voted to abandon New Hampshire families” and he pledged that “I will make sure that Chris Pappas pays for this with his job next November.”

National polling illustrates the popularity of the Democrats’ spending bill as well as the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which the president signed into law on Monday, ahead of stops Tuesday in New Hampshire and Wednesday in Michigan to tout the benefits of the measure.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans questioned in a Quinnipiac University survey conducted Nov. 11-15 said they supported the infrastructure bill, with 58% giving the Democrats’ spending bill a thumbs up. The Quinnipiac poll was the latest survey to indicate majority support for both measures, which are key parts of the president’s domestic agenda that he spotlighted during the 2020 campaign.

But the bills are much more popular than the president and his party.

Biden’s standing with Americans is now well underwater, thanks to a continued drop in his approval ratings in recent months. Fueling the decline is the well-documented rise in inflation this summer and autumn, the surge in COVID cases over the past five months among mainly unvaccinated people, the worst pandemic to strike the globe in a century and Biden’s much-criticized handling of the turbulent U.S. exit from Afghanistan.

And two national polls released over the past week that grabbed plenty of national attention indicated a surge in support for the GOP in next year’s Senate and House races.

Earlier this month Republican businessman Glenn Youngkin edged former Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia in a state that Biden carried by 10 points a year ago over former President Donald Trump and where Republicans hadn’t won statewide in a dozen years. Republicans also captured the lieutenant governor and attorney general offices from the Democrats and flipped the state’s House of Delegates.

The GOP victories in Virginia coupled with Republican gubernatorial nominee Jack Ciattarelli’s near upset of Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy of New Jersey – along with GOP legislative pickups in the very blue Garden State – are seen as ominous signs for the Democrats as they try to hold their razor-thin House and Senate majorities in the 2022 midterms.

But Democrats point to the infrastructure and social spending bills as major selling points in their bid to retain their congressional majorities.

“One year from Election Day 2022, our key to victory is clear: President Biden and House Democrats are delivering on their hopeful, unified vision for America’s families, stabilizing the U.S. economy and making robust investments in our future,” a DCCC memo released on Monday said.

But signature legislation doesn’t have a proven track record in helping the president’s party keep control of Congress.

The Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, and the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Acts of 2010 – the landmark legislative achievements of then-President Barack Obama’s first two years in office – didn’t save the Democrats from getting annihilated by a Tea Party-fueled red wave in that year’s midterm elections.

And Trump’s major domestic achievement during his first two years in office – the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 – didn’t prevent the Democrats from convincingly winning back the House the following year.

“Any strategy based on a signature piece of legislation more often than not does not work,” veteran political scientist Wayne Lesperance noted. “There’s something about the American electorate in midterms where it’s an opportunity for voters to sort of keep the party in power in check. That’s the norm. Signature pieces of legislation rarely provide a buffer against that instinct from the voters.”

Lesperance, the vice president of academic affairs at New England College in Henniker, emphasized that “what the American people appear to be really focused on is their everyday expenses, their kitchen table issues – how much does it cost to put food on the table and fill up your car with gas.”

And he said that the “challenge that the Biden administration and the Democrats have is showing how this legislation is going to make peoples’ lives more affordable. And that’s not obvious.”

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