Will voters put a check on the unrequited ambitions of the Democratic left?
by The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, September 18, 2022
If the election polls are right, Democrats have a good chance of adding to their majority in the Senate and even keeping it in the House. Toward that end they are trying to convince voters that abortion and Donald Trump are the main election issues. But the real issue, by far the most important for actual policy, is whether voters will put a legislative check on the political left.
Mr. Trump isn’t even on the ballot this year, and Joe Biden will be President at least through 2024. No national abortion law is likely to pass Congress as long as the 60-vote legislative filibuster rule remains in the Senate. Abortion law could change in many states depending on election results, but probably not in most.
In other words, the Democratic election strategy is a new version of their 2020 campaign bait-and-switch. Joe Biden and Democrats in Congress won by making the election a referendum on Mr. Trump and Covid-19. But once in office they pivoted to advance a far-left labor agenda and enact the biggest expansion of government in modern history. They succeeded on many fronts, and only the opposition of Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema prevented them from killing the filibuster to do much more.
The Democratic left hasn’t given up on any of this, however, as they are admitting if you pay attention. The media are ignoring this as they echo the abortion and Trump narrative. So it’s worth laying out what Democrats really have in mind, based on what they tried to do this Congress and are promising for the next.
Start with targeting the filibuster, which is priority one because a 51-vote Senate majority opens the door to everything the current House has passed. Vice President Kamala Harris made that clear in a recent speech to the Democratic National Committee.
“With just two more seats in the Senate, we can codify Roe v. Wade, we can put the protections of Roe in law,” Ms. Harris said. “With two more seats in the United States Senate we can pass the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Two more seats.”
Democratic Senate candidates in Wisconsin (Mandela Barnes), Pennsylvania (John Fetterman) and Ohio (Tim Ryan) say they’d vote to kill the filibuster. They also favor adding Washington, D.C., as a new state. “50/50 is not enough. We must expand our Democratic Senate majority to abolish the filibuster once and for all. And our campaign is the best chance to do it,” Mr. Ryan tweeted in January. And he claims to be a moderate.
Arizona Sen. Mark Kelly and New Hampshire Sen. Maggie Hassan have supported a filibuster carve-out for voting legislation. The H.R.1 voting bill creates a federal right to mail ballots and overrides state laws banning ballot harvesting. It requires same-day voter registration and up to 15 days of early voting.
House Democrats also passed H.R.4 that would require the Justice Department or D.C. district court to approve election-law changes in states and localities with a putative history of voting-rights violations. The Attorney General would have broad discretion, and you can bet GOP states will be the main targets as they were under Eric Holder before the Supreme Court voided pre-clearance in Shelby County v. Holder (2013).
Once the legislative filibuster goes for one issue, the political pressure will be enormous to kill it for much more. The Pro Act will surely make a comeback. That bill would override state right-to-work laws that give workers the choice of joining a union; impose a backdoor card-check procedure that neuters secret-ballot election; impose the Obama-era joint-employer standard that put corporations and contractors on the hook for workers they don’t employ but “indirectly” control, and much more.
Democrats also want to pass a CO2 emissions “enforcement mechanism” that failed this year because it violated Senate budget reconciliation rules. Ditto a provision originally in the Inflation Reduction Act that gave the Environmental Protection Agency sweeping power to regulate CO2 emissions under the Clean Air Act.
Build Back Better entitlements including free universal pre-K, child-care subsidies, an expanded refundable child tax credit, paid family leave and Medicare dental and hearing benefits will re-emerge from the grave. Many Democrats are hankering to lower the Medicare age to 60 from 65, and Mr. Ryan co-sponsored legislation in the House.
Major tax increases will also be back in play. Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal recently told a Bloomberg reporter that Democrats will raise individual and corporate tax rates if they keep power. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a recent speech that the Administration’s goal is to return “tax rates for high earners and corporations to historical norms.”
How high is “historical”? Mr. Neal’s original proposal in 2021 raised the corporate rate to 26.5%, and the individual rate to 39.6% from 37% at $400,000 in income and 42.6% above $5 million, and imposed a tax on capital gains at death. With two more Senators, expect those rates to go much higher.
There’s much more we could include here, but you get the idea. If Democrats add seats in the Senate and hold the House, there won’t be much of a check on progressive ambitions. If they accomplish this with inflation at 8%, they will be even more emboldened. That is what’s really on the ballot in November.