‘This is real stuff’: Biden hits the road to sell historic infrastructure law, avoid 2010 replay

When President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act into law in 2010, then-Vice President Joe Biden was at his side. Biden sat with Obama for months as Democrats suffered devastating losses at both the state and federal levels in the midterm elections.

Now, Biden must sell historic legislation to Americans ahead of what is expected to be another difficult midterm season for Democrats. It’s the $1.2-trillion federal infrastructure law. This is the largest such federal investment in decades and the largest ever in certain sectors. Biden is hopeful that he will soon push for the passage of his huge social spending framework. This would fund clean energy and child care, tax credits as well as affordable housing. It also funds expanded healthcare and other initiatives. The challenge is to convince voters about plans that they may not see for many years.

Two days after signing the infrastructure bill into law, Biden took his goodwill tour to General Motors’ electric vehicle assembly plant in Detroit, where he took an electric SUV for a test drive and said: “That Hummer’s one hell of a vehicle.”

Biden said the infrastructure law will invest $7.5 billion in expanding the infrastructure for electric vehicle charging stations. Although lawmakers are still working out details of the “Build back Better” social spending plan the president has maintained the $1. 85-trillion proposal would help boost American manufacturing of electric vehicles and offer consumers tax credits to purchase them.

” We’re gonna ensure that the jobs of tomorrow end up here in Michigan and not around the globe,” stated the president. He was joined Wednesday by members from Michigan’s congressional delegation, GM Chief executive Mary Barra, United Auto Workers President Ray Curry, and Marty Walsh, Labor Secretary. While Biden’s Wednesday speech highlighted the impact of the two major initiatives on the auto industry and the environment, as well as creating union jobs, Tuesday’s speech focused on rural America’s basic infrastructure: roads, high speed internet, and water systems.

Standing at an 82-year-old bridge over the Pemigewasset River in Woodstock, N.H., Biden made the case that the bill addresses the basic needs of people in small towns across America.

“This is real stuff,” Biden told about 30 residents as snow fell across his face. What does it mean when a school bus, water treatment truck or logging truck can’t cross the border? It is about jobs. It also means time. It means energy.” Without access to the bridge, the local Fire Department would need to drive 10 miles out of the way to reach the community, he said. The bipartisan legislation is a welcome victory for Biden who still faces intraparty fighting over the landmark social safety net bill. This comes amid the ongoing pandemic of inflation and supply chain issues.

Biden is on an infrastructure tour as the House prepares for the vote on the Build back Better plan. Although the bill’s impact would be immediate, it is likely to pass completely on Democratic votes , which leaves Biden open to Republican accusations of overspending.

His approval ratings have dropped despite the Democratic agenda being popular. In a Washington Post-ABC poll released Nov. 14, 63% of respondents supported spending $1 trillion on infrastructure, but only 39% approved of the way Biden has handled the economy. His overall approval rating is 41%, down from 52% in April.

As the president’s motorcade wound through rural New Hampshire Tuesday, he was greeted by pro-Trump and anti-Biden signs, some reading “Mandates are 4 greed and power,” a reference to rules imposed to fight COVID-19. One protestor could be heard shouting “Let’s go Brandon” just down the road from Biden’s speech. This slogan has been deemed conservative code for an anti-Biden vulgar statement. “What I think he should do is pretty much the same thing they’re doing already, and that’s hit a road and start selling it all across the country,” stated Jim Manley, a former senior staff member of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. Manley was a key part of the Affordable Care Act’s messaging and strategy.

” One thing we learned about Obamacare was that you shouldn’t overpromise.” Manley stated. “But you need to figure out how exactly to show people that they’re going to benefit from what was just passed.”

Obamacare’s political journey serves as a reminder of both the importance of messaging and the long game politicians must play as they wait to see how the public receives their legislation. Republican criticisms of the Affordable Care Act — including fears of rising costs and losing beloved doctors and false rumors of “death panels” — dominated the 2010 and 2014 midterm elections.

By the 2018 midterm cycle, however, protecting Obamacare from future repeal attempts was a key component of Democrats’ successful effort to retake the House. Biden, as president, has been able bolster the healthcare law through reducing premiums through the American Rescue Act.

” The White House and many Democrats will be frustrated by the time it takes for people in need to start feeling the benefits,” stated Jeremy Rosner (a GQR managing partner, a Democratic polling company). “But the Obamacare case shows that, at some point, sound policy on things that touch people’s lives — like healthcare, roads or childcare, things like that — ultimately … help as messengers and become strong assets.”

That’s little comfort to Democrats heading into next year’s midterm election, a lesson Republicans learned in 2018. We were hoping that tax reform would allow us to keep the House,” stated Matt Gorman, a GOP strategist and communications director for the House Republicans’ campaign arm during the last midterm elections cycle. “While I’m glad we did it — it was good policy — it was certainly not that silver bullet.”

House Democrats flipped control of 41 GOP-held seats in 2018. The vulnerable House Republicans hoped their legislative victories would distract from the controversies surrounding Donald Trump. However, the tax overhaul was not enough to overcome a year that saw a government shutdown and Russia investigation, as well as the separation of families at U.S.-Mexico borders, and legal troubles for various aides. Gorman stated that Republicans would portray Biden as a “bystander” and not as a leader on issues such as Afghanistan, the border, and inflation. Gorman stated that you can’t change a large trend with one piece of legislation.

Historically, the president’s party tends to lose seats in Congress during midterm elections. The 2022 map — currently being redrawn based on the 2020 census — will likely favor House Republicans, according to multiple analyses. House Democrats in certain competitive districts such as Ann Kirkpatrick from Arizona and John Yarmuth, Kentucky, have announced their plans to retire.

Unlike the healthcare bill, the infrastructure bill, which won the support of 19 Republicans in the Senate and 13 in the House, will likely retain its popularity. The administration’s messaging challenge is to distinguish between what work can be done immediately and what will need to wait for months or years before it can be shovel-ready. Officials have emphasized that this isn’t a 2009 stimulus-style bill designed for immediate effect. Although some funds will go to existing programs, most projects will still be in planning stages one year from now.

Asked about the implementation of the law’s $65-billion broadband service plan, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo told reporters earlier this month that communities would see “activity and action” ahead of next year’s midterm elections, but that it would take “some number of months” for projects to get off the ground. Raimondo stated that it is more important to do things right than rush. “I believe people will see their state creating a plan and they’ll start to implement that plan. But, you know, not everyone’s going to get broadband in a year .”

This week several administration members, including Vice President Kamala Harris and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael S. Regan, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, are traveling to blue and red states to promote the bill. These stops include cities like New Orleans where Regan will highlight funding for environmental justice.

On Tuesday, Biden drilled down on the specific issues the law was intended to address in places like Woodstock, which has a population of about 1,300. He noted that the bridge where he was standing, on New Hampshire Route 175, “has been structurally deficient for years,” with the maximum weight allowed on the bridge dropping from 40 to 20 tons as the state spent a quarter of a million dollars on “Band-Aid” repairs. He stated that the infrastructure law will accelerate meaningful repairs to bridges in Woodstock and other small towns by at least one-year.

” My message to New Hampshire residents is simple,” he stated. “Because this delegation, New Hampshire is moving again. Your life will change for the best. And that’s literal.”

John reported from Los Angeles and Logan from New Hampshire.

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