President Biden is testing the theory that spending big pays in politics, with a total of nearly $8 trillion in spending either proposed or doled out so far this year.
The massive spending promises something for almost everyone, whether with subsidized child care or subsidized broadband service or tax credits for buying electric cars. Whether it buys votes will be answered in next year’s midterm elections when Mr. Biden and his Democrats will be defending their majorities in Congress.
Paul Shumaker, a North Carolina-based GOP strategist, said Mr. Biden is walking a political tightrope with his spending vision.
“The question is what impact does it have with the middle — unaffiliated voters who are skeptical,” he said. “It is going to be determined by two factors: one, the ability to sell to the middle that this spending is necessary now; and secondly, to create a package that keeps the radical left wing of the Democratic Party at bay.”
Satisfying the far left, however, probably ends up alienating the middle, Mr. Shumaker argued.
“That is really the wire he will have to walk,” he said.
Mr. Biden is standing tall with voters, according to the latest Real Clear Politics average of polls, which shows voters by a 65% to 31% margin approve of how he has handled the coronavirus and 54% to 41% margin approve of his overall job performance since taking he took the oath four months ago.
Mr. Biden’s signature legislative achievement has been the passage of the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, which included $1,400 stimulus checks for most Americans and remains extremely popular with voters, including independents.
GOP lawmakers opposed the plan, citing the cost.
Mr. Biden has since asked for more, rolling out a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan and a $1.8 trillion families plan.
The two proposals — which will be tucked into the $6 trillion budget blueprint he is expected to release Friday — would be partially funded by raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
The infrastructure proposal calls for upgrades to roads, bridges and ports, and investments in rural broadband, clean-energy projects and schools. The families plan seeks to subsidize child care, make community college and pre-kindergarten free, and give tax credits to families.
Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said Mr. Biden’s proposals have been met with widespread support.
The key to maintaining that support “is delivering results in a way that individuals feel like they’ve gotten some benefit from it,” Mr. Murray said.
He said voters soured against the 2009 stimulus package because they saw Wall Street and big business as reaping the benefits.
On the flip side, Mr. Murray said the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, “started out with low support, because it was seen as a mandate that would help health insurers, but opinion shifted when people started feeling like it was providing them with a safety net.”
A Fox News poll released Thursday found voters were split on Mr. Biden’s spending plans.
Forty-seven percent of registered voters said the government spending is too much, compared to 33% who said it is about right and 17% who said it is not enough.
“Half of voters either approve of Biden’s spending or want more, while about the same portion say it is too much,” Democratic pollster Chris Anderson, who conducts the Fox News poll with Republican Daron Shaw, told the news network.
The responses broke sharply along partisan lines: 79% of Republicans said there was too much spending, compared to 42% of Independents and 18% of Democrats.
Jazmin Vargas, a spokesperson for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, the campaign arm for Senate Democrats, said the party is on the right track.
“Senate Democrats are delivering on their promises to the American people and prioritizing investments to boost the middle class, create good-paying jobs and rebuild our nation’s infrastructure,” she said. “Republicans’ continued opposition to these widely popular programs will be a major liability for any GOP candidate in 2022.”
Lizzie Litzow, a spokesperson for the National Republican Senatorial Committee, the campaign arm for Senate Republicans, said Mr. Biden is making a fiscal mess of things.
“Joe Biden and Senate Democrats’ radical tax-and-spend agenda is causing inflation to skyrocket, and hardworking American families are the ones getting burned,” she said.
The response from progressives is mixed, said Pete D’Alessandro, who served as a senior adviser to Sen. Bernard Sanders’ presidential campaign.
Mr. Biden gets some credit for passing the coronavirus relief package, but activists want more done.
“You’re not always going to get political points for doing what people expect you to do any more,” Mr. D’Alessandro said of the relief package. “It definitely is a feather in the cap, but does a butcher get credit for never putting his thumb on the scale?”
Mr. D’Alessandro said Mr. Biden must pass other parts of his vision to really energize voters.
“I really don’t think you can run a 2022 election on theoreticals,” he said. “I think it has to be, ‘I was elected to do things, I’ve done them.’”
Republicans, meanwhile, are predicting voters will sour on Mr. Biden’s big-spending vision once they recognize it would drag down on the economy, saddle future generations with debt, and lead to inflation.
“The out-of-control spending could turbocharge expected GOP successes in the midterms,” said Brain Fraley, a Wisconsin-based GOP strategist. “Even conservatives are open to reasonable spending increases on actual infrastructure.”
“But each week brings more unprecedented spending that is unrelated to the pandemic and hazardous to the economy,” he said. “As inflation hammers the middle class, they will punish Democrats in the 2022 elections.”
• David Sherfinski contributed to this report.