I’m having coffee with Michael Bennet on a beautiful Denver Saturday afternoon. It’s the kind of day on which you can even, if only momentarily, forget climate change and global warming and way-too-hot Denver summer days and nights.
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Unfortunately, we weren’t there to discuss the weather, but rather the coming midterm elections and whatever political disasters may befall us. It could have been worse, I guess. We could have been talking about the Broncos.
But this is bad enough. As Bennet’s campaign reminds everyone in multiple emails a day, if Bennet were to lose his Senate race to Joe O’Dea, the Democratic majority in the Senate would almost certainly be lost, meaning, among other things, that you could say goodbye to the prospect of any more federal judges or cabinet nominees being approved in the rest of Biden’s first — and possibly only — term.
The fact is, though, recent polls have shown Bennet with as high as a 10-point lead, and he sounded comfortable enough about the race to be thinking about not just politics, but actual policy, including the policy fights to come in the next Congress.
Bennet had just arrived from the women’s march downtown, which Bennet said had a strong turnout. You don’t have to be a political genius to know that the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will matter in many elections across the country, and certainly in Colorado’s.
Nominating O’Dea, who is running as a pro-life, and yet also pro Roe v. Wade, abortion-rights moderate, was a smart choice — unlike, say, that of a certain Colorado GOP candidate who believes that the invented Colorado-wide furry movement will somehow carry her to the governor’s office.
And yet, O’Dea not only said he would have voted to approve the three Trump high-court appointees who doomed Roe, but he also signed the petition to bring Prop 115 to vote — a petition that put a 22-week limit on abortions with no exceptions.
It’s not like Democrats and, of course, Bennet don’t have their own problems. We were there to talk about matters like inflation, and Bennet admits that while we may logically understand that American inflation isn’t much different from Canada’s and the European Union’s and India’s that it’s “cold comfort for people buying a few gallons of gas or who are spending $4.25 on a gallon of milk.”
Bennet says his analysis — which mirrors many liberal economists’ view— is that “the global economy came out of the depths of COVID all at the same time, and it turned out that the just-in-time theory of inventory and just-in-time theory of supply chain broke down everywhere.”
Whose fault is that? You can point fingers in a lot of directions.
“We know the problem now,” Bennet says, “and we know we have to fix it. And that’s why we just passed the CHIPs bill because 95% of semiconductors are made in Taiwan, just off the China shore. We need to bring production back to America.”
The Chinese, by the way, play an outsize role in the production of nearly every pill you take. And we saw how Joe Biden’s fist-bump buddies in Saudi Arabia joined up with the Russians to limit the amount of oil being sold, meaning that gas prices, which had been falling, will almost certainly rise. Bennet said he opposed Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia and the fist bump. He says we should send a strong message to the Saudis. He didn’t say what message.
But because Bennet is a politician and even though he knows all too well the depths of Washington dysfunction — he even wrote a book about it — he believes there’s an opportunity to turn this economic, and political, disaster into working policy. He has to think that, I guess, or why else would Coloradans be voting for him?
“My most optimistic self thinks we’re at the moment that could be the end of the Reagan revolution, the end of his version of outsourcing and the end of trickle-down economics and supply-side economics,” Bennet says. “And also the end of the theory that you can measure how productive a society is by how well shareholders are doing.”
“Look at this neighborhood,” Bennet says. “The people who live in these houses, their children can’t afford them. School teachers used to live in these houses. School teachers can’t afford them.
“We’re making the case that Joe O’Dea, who embraces Reagan economics, who embraced Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthy, is not just wrong on this, but that it’s all madness. I think that’s genuinely who O’Dea is — a stone-cold economics trickle-down guy.”
Bennet might have a stronger case if the expanded child-tax credit bill — the one that he, Sherrod Brown and Cory Booker, among others, had pushed so hard for — hadn’t expired after one year and is now no longer law.
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In my view, the law greatly expanding child-tax credits was the best thing Bennet has done as a senator. When Biden got it passed as part of the infrastructure bill, but with a one-year sunset, Bennet told me he was sure that Republicans and, yeah, Joe Manchin, wouldn’t dare take it away.
It reduced child poverty by nearly 45%. It reduced child hunger by 25%. These are big, important, life-changing numbers. And yet.
Biden gets a lot of the blame for not saving the expanded credit, too, although it was Manchin’s unwillingness to include it in the reconciliation, climate-change package that doomed it.
Manchin’s objections were Reaganesque — he might as well have been talking about welfare cheats. And Biden?
“The Biden administration didn’t fight enough for it,” Bennet said. “That was very disappointing.”
It’s interesting to hear Bennet criticize Biden on this, especially when Biden will be here next week, with Bennet in attendance, to declare Colorado’s Camp Hale his first national monument. That’s what happens when your seat is on the line.
But Bennet does have a plan. I have no idea if it could work. The fact that Mitt Romney plays a key role may or may not be all that helpful.
Let’s say Democrats lose the House, which is quite likely, meaning that we can all wait for the House crazies to try to impeach Biden and, meanwhile, hold nonstop hearings on Hunter. And that’s just for starters. Wait until the government needs to be funded next. What I mean is that if there’s a Republican House, Lauren Boebert would suddenly become a player.
If Democrats do lose the House, the lame-duck version of Congress will be the last chance to get nearly anything done in Biden’s last two years. And part of what needs to be done right now is to extend certain business-related tax credits that would otherwise expire, including the R&D — research and development — credits.
“What I have said, what Sherrod Brown has said, what Cory Booker has said, if we’re going to do all this stuff on business credits, we need to do something with the child tax credit,” Bennet said. “That’s our position. Whether anyone cares about that position, I don’t know. But we’ll see. We’ve seen these guys work till 2 o’clock in the morning to extend tax credits.
“And you know the first person to introduce a child-tax credit after we failed, because of Manchin, to extend it, was Mitt Romney, a Republican. Now we need to get to 60 votes, which means at least 10 Republicans. But they know, because it’s been shown, that the child tax credits do work.”
In this version, Bennet, Brown and Booker play the Manchin role and refuse to go along with bills that need to be passed in order to get their bill considered and, gosh, maybe passed again.
It’s a thought. It’s the kind of thought you have when the polls are going your way and the voting begins soon and the stakes could not be any higher. Or maybe because it is kind of beautiful when all things seem at least semi-possible.
Mike Littwin has been a columnist for too many years to count. He has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow.
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