Talking Points

Democrats are right to 'do fewer things well'

It took awhile, but Democrats are finally setting some priorities

As has become clear over the last few weeks, Congress will not pass a $3.5 trillion reconciliation bill — $1.5 to $2 trillion is more likely. Democrats have debated how to respond to that reality, and on Monday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) opted for a prudently narrowed approach. "Overwhelmingly," she wrote to colleagues, "the guidance I am receiving from members is to do fewer things well so that we can still have a transformative impact on families in the workplace and responsibly address the climate crisis."

We'll see how this works out. Pelosi and her colleagues haven't decided what "fewer things" will be in the final proposal, but choosing some priorities means not choosing others. The process of deciding who wins and who loses while keeping Democrats unified enough to pass a bill will be tricky. Still, "doing fewer things well" is the right approach, for two reasons.

First, launching any major new program can be challenging, and doing it badly can fuel a backlash against even the best-intentioned plans. When ObamaCare launched in 2013, the website crashed within two hours. It's no coincidence public approval for the program didn't really solidify until Republicans tried and failed to repeal it in 2017. It's easier to look (and be) competent if you're not trying to do everything at once.

Second, doing fewer things will probably make those things easier to sell to voters. Right now, only about 10 percent of Americans feel they have a good idea of what's in the "Build Back Better" reconciliation bill. Progressives complain that the media has done a poor job explaining the proposal, but that's partly a function of there being so much to explain — paid family leave, free community college, affordable housing, and much, much, more. Narrowing their ambitions might be painful, but Democrats will probably find messaging the bill much easier.

While Pelosi and her caucus are choosing which proposals to preserve, they should keep an eye on what Americans actually want. A new poll shows 83 percent of the public wants the government to negotiate to lower prescription drug prices for Medicare beneficiaries, but so far a few centrist Democrats are blocking that effort. It's just one of many debates to come.

Doing fewer things well is a smart approach for the Democrats. Now they just have to choose the right things.