WASHINGTON (CN) — Build Back Better is dead, voting rights legislation stalled out and one word is on the lips of many with eyes on the Democratic agenda: midterms.
In nine months, midterm elections are going to test the holding power of one-third of the seats in the Senate and every spot in the House during a time when Democrats’ majority in both chambers is razor thin and massive parts of their agenda have not come to fruition.
Experts call it likely that the majority in both chambers of Congress will flip to Republican control come November, but many don’t attribute that outcome to the stalled portions of the Democratic agenda.
Instead, they note that the president’s party losing seats in the midterms is a tradition that runs almost like clockwork, year after year in Washington.
While the stall-outs of Build Back Better and voting rights have been painted as massive failures, the amount of legislation Democrats under the leadership of President Joe Biden have been able to pass, and not pass, is fairly typical when compared with previous administrations that also held congressional majorities.
“It is not at all unusual for parties with unified government to fail on their top priorities,” said Frances Lee, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton University, going on to note how slim the current Democratic majorities are.
In 2017, Republicans’ top agenda item was to repeal and replace Obamacare, also known as the Affordable Care Act. A deal on the legislation never happened, however, despite their majority in both chambers.
Before that, Democrats were not able to pass climate change legislation under President Barack Obama and unified government. And back during the era of President George W. Bush, Social Security reform, the then-president’s top priority, failed despite Republicans having control in the Senate and the House.
Lee noted that the American Rescue Plan, which extended child tax credits to families and distributed stimulus checks while keeping small businesses and unemployed people supported during the pandemic, was a massive reconciliation bill for Democrats and Biden to pass.
Democrats also spearheaded and executed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, massive legislation aimed at overhauling crumbling transportation networks.
Lee said it’s no surprise that Democrats, who have the upper-hand only by a vice presidential vote in the Senate and a handful of seats in the House, then struggled to pass a second enormous reconciliation bill in the form of the Build Back Better Act — something that most administrations and congresses just aren’t able to do.
“It’s really typical. Now, it has the negative effects you might expect. It’s demoralizing for base voters, so Biden is suffering with the frustration on the part of Democrats, you see that,” Lee said.
It’s no secret that voters feel the burn from legislative failures that have made headlines and consumed much of the congressional agenda for months.
Biden’s approval rating sits near 41%, and has continued to dip in recent months, with his approval rating among Democrats falling to 76%, down 7 points from his numbers in autumn, according to late-January data from the Pew Research Center.
All this while the economy is growing at record rates, job creation has bounced back to pre-pandemic levels and unemployment is down to 4%.
"It's a question of the glass being two-thirds full or one-third empty. And to the extent people can understand that the glass is two-thirds full, which it is, then I think that will work to Democrats' advantage. If people focus on the things that didn't happen, obviously, that's not going to help,” said Thomas Kahn, distinguished faculty fellow at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University.