Jan 31, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Frontline Dems sell ‘China bill’ as jobs measure aimed at inflation

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Moderate frontline Democrats, desperate to score a win after months of party failures, are planning to sell the new House competition legislation as a jobs bill that will ease inflation — not a China bill.

Why it matters: These members see the rebranding as a life raft ahead of their tough re-election fights. They're urging leadership to make the new competition bill Congress' top legislative priority.

What we're hearing: The members have long been calling on President Biden and Democratic leaders to do more to address inflation and breakdowns in the U.S. supply chain. Both are key Republican attack points.

  • They also see this bill as an opportunity to tell their voters they're finally acting after futile work on Biden's Build Back Better agenda and comprehensive voting rights.
  • In the coming weeks, they'll emphasize how the "America COMPETES Act" will bring jobs to middle America and suburban areas, focusing heavily on semiconductor manufacturing and so-called CHIPS provisions that would aid that industry, Axios is told.

While other lawmakers have been calling this a "China bill," or focusing on the technological innovation and research aspects of the legislation, the moderate Democrats' decision to home in on these topics is targeted specifically to their districts.

  • They see these issues as crucial to determining their success in the November elections.
  • “Anybody who wants to push this bill can choose whatever form of messaging they want," Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) told Axios.
  • "It's definitely jobs legislation," said Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.), chairwoman of the New Democrat Coalition.
  • That bloc of House centrists hypes its members as "majority-makers."
  • "We have really seen this as a golden opportunity for Congress to act to address issues that we're facing right now," DelBene said.

What they're saying: “Strengthening supply chains and bringing more manufacturing back to America is going to help lower prices and ease the burden of inflation for working families," White House spokesperson Mike Gwin said in a statement.

  • "It’s also going to help us out-innovate and out-compete China in the 21st century."

Timing: The Frontliners want to notch this win as soon as possible.

  • Twenty-five of them sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer last Wednesday, urging them to make the bill their party's top priority.
  • They said they want House leadership to bring the bill to the floor early this week and then pass it quickly.
  • The letter emphasized how their constituents want a bill addressing inflation, supply chain disruptions and availability of semiconductors.

The backdrop: The Senate's version — championed by Majority Leader Chuck Schumer — was introduced and sold as a bill to better position the U.S. to compete with China.

What they're also saying: "We don't want China dictating our policies," Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) told Axios. "But what we also want to do is bring jobs here, make sure that we have the full spectrum of advanced manufacturing needs here in the United States of America."

  • Haley said that in her district — the heartland of the automotive industry — this messaging is especially crucial.
  • "You're waking up to CHIPS every single day. You're waking up to another headline about the shortages, the threats to the workforce, the threats to small businesses. ... We needed to get it done yesterday."
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