President Biden’s $2.3 trillion plan to revamp the nation’s infrastructure and social programs is putting swing-district Democratic incumbents on the spot, with Republicans eager to tie vulnerable Democrats to the parts of the massive spending bill that go beyond traditional infrastructure projects such as roads and bridges.
David Winston, a longtime GOP pollster, said the administration is trying to redefine words with its expansive new definition of “infrastructure” but that voters aren’t necessarily buying it.
“We tested a variety of different things. No matter what else you have in it, if it’s got roads and bridges, it does well,” he said. “But if you isolate some of these specific items, all of a sudden the support for that falls off because people don’t see it that way.”
“Child care is certainly social policy — that’s very different from infrastructure,” he said.
Americans for Prosperity, a prominent pro-free market advocacy group, is scheduled to hit Des Moines on Monday as the first stop in a campaign targeting vulnerable House Democrats over the infrastructure package.
The initial stop will target Rep. Cindy Axne, Iowa Democrat, with plans to confront other swing district members in states like Georgia, Kansas and Pennsylvania who should be having second thoughts on supporting another plank in Mr. Biden’s costly agenda, AFP President Tim Phillips told The Washington Times.
“Part of the message will be, ‘enough is enough here.’ Let’s rein this in and here’s the chance for you to vote ‘no’ and show your district that you’re not just kind of a partisan, hard-left politician but you’re actually looking through the impact on the folks back home,” Mr. Phillips said.
The campaign will rally opposition to the president’s infrastructure package.
“At what point does that rank-and-file Democrat House member from a swing district, or that Democrat senator from a swing state, say ‘Wait, finally this is too far. The people back home will just recoil from this level of extreme ideology’?” Mr. Phillips said.
Ms. Axne’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the effort.
Democrats hold a 218-212 majority in the House, giving Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California almost no margin for error assuming Republicans stay unified in opposition to Mr. Biden’s proposals.
The Senate is split 50-50 between the two parties, with Democrats controlling the chamber thanks to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Kamala D. Harris.
A group of Senate Democrats and Republicans have been talking about a narrower bill with a price tag of closer to $800 billion that would be focused on roads, bridges, and broadbamd.
“I think that if we come together in a bipartisan way to pass that $800 billion hard infrastructure bill that you were talking about, that I’ve been urging, then we show our people that we can solve their problems,” Sen. Chris Coons, Delaware Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday.”
Under that scenario, Democrats could still leverage a fast-track budget tool to pass an additional package of around $1 trillion without having to win support from any Republicans.
Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said on the program that he could envision bipartisan support for a deal on “core” infrastructure as long as it’s paid for.
“Let’s do it and leave the rest for another day and another fight,” Mr. Cornyn said on the program.
Mr. Biden said he’s open to compromise, but he can’t afford to lose a single Senate Democrat for a partial package unless he can win Republican support.
Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, one of the chamber’s most conservative Democrats, isn’t the only one Mr. Biden has to worry about, said George Callas with the firm Steptoe & Johnson LLP.
“There are often at least a half a dozen more moderate-leaning Democratic senators kind of hiding behind Joe Manchin,” said Mr. Callas, who was a lead House Republican staff negotiator on the 2017 GOP tax law. “[It’s] just they aren’t necessarily speaking up, but they may have similar concerns to Joe Manchin.”
To pay for the plan, Mr. Biden wants to roll back key parts of that tax law, including raising the U.S. corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. It had been 35% before 2017.
Mr. Callas and Mr. Winston spoke as part of a recent event hosted by the National Federation of Independent Business and the S Corporation Association.
The White House has cited public polling to argue that the plan has wide bipartisan support, despite congressional Republicans saying it’s much too expansive.
Early polling “underscores the overwhelming bipartisan support for this plan, and how the president wants to pay for it,” Anita Dunn, an outside adviser to the White House, said in a memo this month.
“In the face of massive support from the public, it’s no surprise that Republicans have struggled to articulate a reason to oppose the president’s plan,” Ms. Dunn said. “And in trying to attack the president’s proposal, Republicans have had to run away from their own record of supporting critical investments in our infrastructure.”
Mr. Phillips said people need to remember 2009 when former President Barack Obama entered office with higher initial marks than Mr. Biden amid pledges to transform the country.
“What ended up happening? 63 House Democrats saw their careers ended,” he said, referring to the 2010 midterms.
A recent Quinnipiac University survey found that Americans, by a 44% to 38% margin, said they support Mr. Biden’s $2 trillion-plus proposal — support that grew to a 53%-39% split when people were asked if they supported a plan that was funded by raising taxes on corporations.
“The president’s infrastructure bill, a $2 trillion national makeover, gets a lukewarm go-ahead from Americans, but a warmer reception when the suggestion that big corporations, not taxpayers, should be forced to front the funding,” said Quinnipiac University Polling Analyst Tim Malloy.
Republicans counter that it’s not as simple as Mr. Biden makes it sound, and say his proposed $2.5 trillion in corporate tax increases will translate to higher energy bills for average Americans and a more difficult business climate for small businesses.
Americans were also skeptical that Mr. Biden will follow through on his pledge not to increase taxes on individuals and households earning less than $400,000 per year.
Forty-eight percent said they believe Mr. Biden will increase taxes on people earning less than $400,000 per year and 44% said he will not, according to the Quinnipiac poll.
“People don’t necessarily respond super-negatively when Biden talks about something, but then the moment that they actually see what he means and what the impacts are, they hate it,” said Garrett Bess, vice president of government relations and communications at Heritage Action for America, a conservative advocacy group.
χ Alex Swoyer contributed to this report.