“A lot of families struggled before Covid,” said a third woman at the table, Cheryl Miles, a local housing attorney whose nonprofit has seen increasing demand in even some of the state’s richest counties.
Houlahan is one of more than 80 House Democrats who returned home on a high-profile promotional tour this spring, seeking to educate voters about the billions of dollars in new benefits that their party’s coronavirus recovery plan would bring with its fragile house majority at stake next fall. However, a four-day swing through Keystone State to visit three of its potentially vulnerable House Democratic incumbents revealed that their selling points are more complicated than the classic political victory round. After all, the pandemic is not over yet, millions are still unemployed and the pace of vaccinations remains uneven.
Houlahan’s park bench in a tiny suburb in southeastern Pennsylvania was one of several conversations she had during a multi-day trip through her district to show Biden stimulus money at work and review her progress. She met with working parents who have lost their jobs and day care centers with a shortage of staff. It showed that some voters are far from hopeful as a huge tranche of government aid is still being withdrawn.
And Houlahan’s constituents weren’t alone during the break: Rep. Susan Wild asked questions about remaining rent bills in a tele town hall despite the eviction moratorium, and met with restaurateurs who were battling to recruit staff. Rep. Matt Cartwright heard a lawyer at a children’s health center in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, describe the Democratic bill as just a “first step.”
As these Democrats traversed their districts and most held their first in-person events in over a year, they spoke to grateful health officials, mayors, and shopkeepers who praised the $ 1.9 trillion utility bill – though almost all of them said more needed would be done.
The introduction of the Pandemic Relief Act in Districts Across the Country this month marks the opening salvo in the messaging battle over Biden’s recovery plan, which is expected to be fought over the next two years as the two parties jockey for control of the house next November. So widespread is the law that many Democrats believe it could help prevent the medium-term setback that normally hits the White House party during a president’s first term, and many in Biden’s party say they have lessons from messaging Obama-era flops that played a role in taking over the GOP house in 2010.
Aside from a strong public buy-in, the Democrats face challenges running the same messaging campaign in districts different from those on the east side of Pennsylvania. Houlahan, Wild and Cartwright are defending turf in shrinking working-class neighborhoods, lush green farmlands and bustling university towns, all of which are battling dramatically different side effects from the pandemic.
Sometimes the puzzle is mostly logistical: some of the key provisions of the Biden Aid Package, such as an increase in tax credit for children, are the hardest to explain to constituents. Other benefits of the massive bill have not yet arrived, and many Pennsylvanians appeared to be more focused on the spotty vaccine rollout or the governor’s tough Covid restrictions.
Other townships deep in the state of Donald Trump present a political hurdle. There, Democratic incumbents must fight the GOP’s arguments that Biden’s Covid bill is a “liberal wish list” ready to go into debt and boost inflation. Republicans – who unanimously voted against the bailout in Congress – have bought billboards and other advertisements in districts, including Wilds, to pound Democrats on school openings.
“There is this narrative of ‘Oh, this is not Covid relief’ or ‘A small part of it went to the disease. “Fair enough,” Houlahan said in an interview while staying in an area of West Reading, Pennsylvania, with a high concentration of poor families. “But the consequences of this pandemic have been so far-reaching that the response must be too.”
The “gigantic and complex” scope of the bill, she added, is why she planned break visits to places as diverse as a mushroom farm to vaccinate its workers, a brewery that stayed afloat on a pandemic relief loan, and a Head Start Center that will use its resources to hold personal summer meetings.
Democrats are also fighting GOP attacks more broadly as the caucus campaign arm and allied external groups spend large sums of money on advertising to promote the mammoth rescue law in Pennsylvania and other battlefield states.