While the plan helped produce budget surpluses a few years later, the immediate voter reaction was punishing for Democrats.
“We all got our heads handed to us in the 1994 election,” Johnson noted years later, as Democrats lost control of the U.S. House, propelling Georgia’s Newt Gingrich into the post of Speaker.
Georgia Democrats lost three U.S. House seats in the aftermath of that 1993 budget vote, as Johnson and George ‘Buddy’ Darden were defeated, while future GOP Senator Saxby Chambliss picked up another Democratic seat for the GOP.
For years, state Republicans openly chortled about Johnson’s loss, saying it showed how they could put political pressure on vulnerable Democrats — and then defeat them in the next election.
The next time Democrats tried something big was in 2010, when they approved the Affordable Care Act.
That generated the Tea Party backlash which cost Democrats their House majority.
It didn’t matter that conservative Democrats like U.S. Rep. Jim Marshall of Georgia voted against the Obama health law that year. Republicans ousted Marshall and won 63 seats in the 2010 midterms from Democrats — the biggest shift since 1948.
Certainly, no one can predict how voters will react in 2022 — but the recent shadow boxing of more moderate Democrats such as U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee, brings back echoes of those earlier legislative fights.
“We owe it to our children to make sure we aren’t saddling them with generations of debt,” Bourdeaux said in late August, as she tangled with her own leadership over how best to proceed on infrastructure and this larger budget reconciliation package.
Bourdeaux’s moves and arguments in 2021 aren’t too far away from those of Don Johnson in 1993 and Jim Marshall in 2010.
The puzzle for Democrats is how to get this $3.5 trillion plan through Congress and onto President Biden’s desk — and then try to make sure lawmakers such as Bourdeaux survive in 2022.
Jamie Dupree has covered national politics and the Congress from Washington, D.C. since the Reagan administration. His column appears weekly in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. For more, check out his Capitol Hill newsletter at http://jamiedupree.substack.com