Georgia Democrats try to sharpen message after infrastructure bill passes

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock was nearing the end of his roundtable discussion with a small group of parents when Raeven Gibson spoke up with an earnest appeal about the child tax credit tucked into economic relief legislation he supported.

“My life flipped upside down, but this has been a blessing. It’s helping,” Gibson said of the temporary $300 monthly credits. “It’s been really hard, but this is helping. Just keep fighting for us.”

Warnock had just finished speaking to the Fayetteville group about how he views the tax break as essential to long-term efforts to curb child poverty. He walked over to Gibson and gave her a fist bump and a note of praise: “You’re still standing. And it wasn’t easy.”

After a tumultuous 2021 election cycle, Georgia Democrats are racing to sharpen their message about the far-reaching legislation that the party has embraced: a $1.9 trillion coronavirus aid package that passed earlier this year, a $1.2 trillion infrastructure measure adopted last week and an even broader social spending bill that’s still under consideration.

Though the measures would satisfy a range of President Joe Biden’s campaign promises, Democratic leaders in Washington and Georgia acknowledge they’ve struggled to translate the benefits of the complex legislative measures to voters.

They face lockstep opposition from GOP lawmakers in Georgia who frame the spending proposals as wasteful government overreach. The state’s entire Republican U.S. House delegation voted against both the aid package and the bipartisan infrastructure measure.

And each member of the GOP delegation has vowed to oppose the social spending package that could soon reach a vote and bears a price tag of roughly $2 trillion.

“Democrats have again rammed through unpopular liberal policies,” U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton, said after the infrastructure measure cleared the House with help from 13 GOP lawmakers. “They are completely out of touch with Americans, or they simply don’t care what they think.”

Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to overcome the fractious infighting between the liberal wing and more moderate lawmakers that threatens to escalate.

“Welcome to my world,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quipped last week, before trying to put a positive face on the internal clash. Democrats, she said, don’t always toe the party line, “and that exuberance is the vitality of our party, which we value and treasure.”

Warnock, one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats up for election next year, was more direct.

“We need to do a better job of helping families to understand what’s in these bills and the work that’s getting done,” he said in an interview. “Too often, politicians are talking to one another instead of talking to the people they’re representing.”

‘Finish line’

Warnock and other Georgia Democrats hit the road this week to build support across Georgia for Biden’s proposals.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux held five events across her Gwinnett County-based district and beyond, including a tour of a massive electric vehicle battery plant in Commerce that is the cornerstone of the state’s growing industry and would stand to gain from new spending on green infrastructure.

“We have an opportunity to do well by doing good by investing in next-generation technologies which will grow our economy as we transition to a clean energy future,” she said.

Emboldened by the passage of the infrastructure bill, other Democrats promised to keep the measure front and center in 2022. U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, who chairs the state Democratic Party, promised she wouldn’t let voters forget who backed the bipartisan measure and who didn’t.

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

Credit: Alyssa Pointer

“At every new ribbon-cutting, every new job ceremony and every new project that is built thanks to the bipartisan infrastructure deal, we are going to remind voters that while Georgia Republicans tried to block Georgia’s economic future, President Biden and Georgia Democrats delivered,” Williams said.

Once Biden signs the infrastructure measure into law on Monday, the party’s focus will also shift to the Build Back Better Act, which Democrats hope to soon squeeze through a divided Congress using the complicated reconciliation process that would allow the measure to avoid a Senate filibuster.

The measure would increase the government’s social safety net by expanding health care programs, instituting universal prekindergarten, financing initiatives to combat climate change and expanding tax benefits for families. It would be financed by imposing new taxes on millionaires and profitable corporations.

State Republicans have tried to energize conservative supporters with dire warnings about the consequences of the measure. U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter of Pooler echoed his GOP colleagues by calling it a “Build Back Broke” agenda that could bankrupt future generations.

Warnock, for his part, said Democrats can win the messaging battle if they keep focused on the specifics of the package. He pointed to polls that show expanding the child tax credit and financing early childhood education are particularly popular with American voters.

“They’re all really good things that will strengthen the economy and help ordinary people and get workers back to work,” Warnock said. “So we need to finish the job and get it across the finish line.”