Joe Biden is sworn in as U.S. President during his inauguration on the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. During today’s inauguration ceremony Joe Biden becomes the 46th president of the United States. | Alex Wong/Getty Images
In the fallout over this month’s crushing elections, U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) took President Joe Biden to task: “Nobody elected him to be F.D.R.,” she snipped to The New York Times. “They elected him to be normal and stop the chaos.”
Biden, of course, won a solid victory over Donald Trump, but nothing close to the sweeping mandate FDR won in 1932. And Biden’s Democrats cling to narrow majorities in the U.S. House and Senate, while FDR enjoyed strong Democratic majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Still, Spanberger is coming to the wrong conclusion.
Voters may not have elected another FDR, but we desperately need one after decades of trickle-down attacks on government. She and her fellow Democrats should worry less about reelection and more about delivering for the American people — while they still can.
In Virginia and across the nation, climate change is wreaking havoc, particularly on marginalized communities. Hurricanes and tropical storms are becoming more intense, seas are rising, we’re losing precious ecosystems, summers are getting hotter, and worse.
Income inequality has reached the “Gilded Age” levels predating FDR’s tenure, our safety net is in tatters, especially after the pandemic, white supremacy and hate are on the rise, and our democracy is in jeopardy. To survive into the next decade, let alone the next century, our country needs an FDR-style response in scope and scale.
Biden got off to a good start in his first 100 days, ushering in a $2 trillion economic relief package that spurred mass vaccinations, helped tenants avoid homelessness, slashed child poverty, provided relief to cities and states, and more.
Earlier this month, he signed a $1 trillion bill that will, at long last, shore up our nation’s ailing infrastructure and combat climate change. It will expand access to clean drinking water, ensure all Americans have access to quality high-speed internet access, fix damaged roads and bridges, make historic investments in modern public transit, upgrade airports and seaports, invest in rail service and electric vehicles, upgrade the power infrastructure to hasten the transition to clean energy, and clean up abandoned mines and other contaminated sites.
And last week, the U.S. House approved Biden’s $1.75 trillion “Build Back Better” package that would combat climate change and invest in “human infrastructure” — i.e., people. It includes more than half a trillion dollars for climate and clean energy and also supports caregiving, early education, paid leave, health care, housing and more.
Taken together, the bills would add some $5 trillion in new government spending this year alone (if the climate and social spending package passes). That’s not enough to curb the worst effects of the climate crisis or sufficiently address social inequity and shore up our safety net. But it’s still Rooseveltian — and not bad for one year in office.
These policies enjoy broad public support. Biden’s $2 trillion stimulus package was hugely popular. More than two-thirds of the public (65%) support his infrastructure law, and nearly as many (62%) support the Build Back Better plan headed to the Senate, recent polls show.
And despite GOP charges to the contrary, many economists say the packages won’t drive up inflation because spending will spread out over years and will largely be paid for, according to Politico. Last week, U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the bill will be “fully paid for.”
Americans need and want these laws. They’re not progressive; they are mainstream. They’re not too costly; rather, we can’t afford not to pass them.
Democrats have nothing to fear from passing them but fear itself.
That doesn’t mean some won’t pay a political price — but that comes with the territory, especially for lawmakers like Spanberger who represent swing districts like the 7th district near Richmond.
Republicans seized control of the political establishment in Virginia this month. And they’re coming for the U.S. Congress in 2022 — targeting Spanberger and other vulnerable Democrats like U.S. Reps. Jennifer Wexton and Elaine Luria.
If past is prologue, the GOP will succeed in defeating a number of Democrats and possibly retaking control of Congress. Indeed, the political party whose president holds the White House typically hemorrhages seats in midterm elections, at least in the modern era.
Roosevelt himself was not immune. After winning reelection in 1936, his party lost 89 House and Senate seats in 1938 and 55 seats in 1942.
Spangerber is high on the GOP hit list. She won by 2 percentage points in 2018 and 2020, and Republican Gov.-elect Glenn Youngkin carried her district by double digits this month. On the day after the elections, The National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm, said Spanberger and Luria are “doomed,” and added Wexton to their hit list.
Fortunately, Spanberger, Luria, Wexton and enough other House lawmakers backed big government action on climate, infrastructure, health, wellbeing, and equity. Time will tell if history is against these and other Democrats in 2022, but the public is for their agenda.
They should not be afraid to push good policy, however big and bold. That is what “normal” politicians are elected to do.
A version of this column first ran in the Advance‘s sister site, the Virginia Mercury. Read the column here.
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