House Democrats who held on to their seats in places where voters chose former President Donald Trump in 2020 could wield enormous power over the Biden administration’s agenda, and the newly unveiled infrastructure plan could prove the first major test of their influence.
Republican groups, meanwhile, plan to push those vulnerable Democrats to outline an explicit position on raising taxes, which they then aim to weaponize in a messaging campaign against the hikes.
Seven House Democrats — Reps. Cindy Axne, Cheri Bustos, Jared Golden, Elissa Slotkin, Andy Kim, Matt Cartwright, and Ron Kind — represent districts Trump won in 2020. With the margin of her majority cut down to fewer than 10 members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must likely keep at least some of her Trump-country members in line to vote for a package that Republicans have indicated they won’t support.
The Washington Examiner reached out to all seven offices this week to ask whether the members support tax hikes in Biden’s proposal or the revival of a state and local tax deduction that was not in it; none responded. A small number of House Democrats have said they will push to remove caps on the state and local, or SALT, deduction, but many of the most vulnerable Democratic members have not outlined where they stand on the specifics of the tax reforms in the bill. Pelosi said Thursday that she hopes to include a repeal of the limit on SALT deductions in the final version of the legislation; doing so would provide tax relief for some wealthy homeowners in high-tax blue states.
House Democrats are eyeing a July deadline for advancing the infrastructure plan, giving them several months to draft the language of the sprawling bill and jockey to have their priorities funded in it.
GOP political groups ultimately plan to pressure vulnerable House Democrats in Trump districts and beyond over their party’s support for raising taxes during a pandemic, Republican officials said. The issue will be a top priority for the American Action Network, a conservative advocacy group, and officials there are currently working through the details of what the messaging campaign will look like, a person familiar with the plans said.
Another Republican official said the tax-related messaging from GOP groups will focus on the secondary effects of the tax hikes Biden proposed: potential wage cuts, job losses, or price increases on products.
Biden and Democrats have defended the proposal because it raises taxes only on corporations and people earning more than $400,000 per year. Biden proposed lifting the corporate tax rate from 21% to 28%. And his allies have focused on jobs the infrastructure projects could create, describing the plan as an investment rather than a large expenditure of taxpayer dollars.
But Republican lawmakers are already debuting the frame they will attempt to place around the $2 trillion proposal — one that minimizes what the infrastructure plan actually provides while spotlighting how the Biden administration wants to pay for it.
“That package that they’re putting together now, as much as we would like to address infrastructure, is not going to get support from our side. Because I think the last thing the economy needs right now is a big, whopping tax increase,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday.
The GOP focus on raising taxes could place some House Democrats in a difficult position — particularly ones who have cast themselves as business-friendly or fiscally minded.
For example, Golden, a Democrat from Maine, voted against the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package last month after raising concerns about how much the legislation spent.
“Borrowing and spending hundreds of billions more in excess of meeting the most urgent needs poses a risk to both our economic recovery and the priorities I would like to work with the Biden Administration to achieve,” Golden said at the time.
He was the lone House Democrat to oppose the package.
Cartwright, who represents Pennsylvania, was the only Democrat in a Trump district to release a statement on the infrastructure proposal. Although he praised the job-creating potential of the plan, he made no mention of the pay-fors and described it as a “framework” for the ultimate legislation.
Other Democrats have suggested they may have reservations about aspects of the massive proposal.
“The bigger it is, the more finesse you’ve got to have,” Rep. Henry Cuellar, a Texas Democrat, told Politico. “Highways, infrastructure? Easy. Water projects? Easy. How you pay for it? Let’s take a look. And if you start adding climate? Well, what exactly are you talking about?”
Although Cuellar won reelection comfortably last year, the National Republican Congressional Committee has him on its list of “offensive pick-up opportunities” for 2022.