Conventional wisdom has it that the Democrats are in for a drubbing in the 2014 midterm elections. After all, polls show that Obama’s approval rating is at or near its lowest point in his presidency. The generic question of which party you will support in the next election now favors Republicans. And Obamacare may yet yield further frustrations in the New Year, particularly if computer glitches with the “backend” processing of enrollees on Healthcare.gov lead many to believe they have coverage when they do not.
Nevertheless, Democrats have a prospective domestic policy agenda that could help to confound CW – if they can summon the wisdom, courage and energy to push it forcefully.
For the 2014 campaign, Democrats can present their overall vision as one that maintains and even strengthens the social safety net for all Americans, increases the hourly wage of our lowest-income workers, and seeks to boost an already improving economy while simultaneously improving America’s international competitiveness. Key features:
A strong push to increase the minimum wage. Polling shows a strong majority of Americans support an increase in the minimum wage. The president has proposed a national raise to $10.00 an hour. Some cities are considering an increase to $15.00 an hour, as one municipality in Washington State (SeaTac) has already done. Fast food workers have staged nation-wide demonstrations in support of higher pay for workers on minimum wage. With so many low-wage workers struggling to make ends meet without resorting to government assistance, it’s an issue whose time has definitely come.
Extending long term unemployment benefits. Republicans may face a backlash to their unwillingness to include such an extension in the budget deal concluded recently by Democratic Senator Patti Murray and GOP Congressman Paul Ryan. GOP reasoning that losing their benefits will provide a necessary kick in the butt for these unfortunates to find jobs is contradicted by most of the available evidence. Lack of effort is not the problem; studies show that employers are less inclined to hire the long term unemployed. The public’s sympathies, not to mention the genuine pain that will be inflicted on up to 4 million unemployed Americans over the next several months if this federal program is not extended, make this a compelling issue for Democrats.
Switching to offense on the Affordable Care Act. Whatever its initial travails, the ACA is starting to settle down and show its promise. About 2 million Americans have enrolled in private insurance plans through Healthcare.gov or state websites thus far, and more have signed on directly with insurance companies. An additional 4 million have enrolled in Medicaid in the last few months mostly under the ACA’s expansion but also including some who qualified previously but never enrolled. There is reason to believe that many more will enroll before the enrollment period expires on March 31st. Republicans, meanwhile, not only lack a health care reform plan of their own but are doing everything they can to impede the only one on the table. Most egregiously, 25 GOP dominated states have deprived 5 million of their own low-income workers of an opportunity to be covered under an expanded Medicaid. This can only work to the detriment of the GOP. Whether it comes quickly enough to help Democrats is an open question; but the latter at least have something substantive to argue for, whereas Republicans are left to do what they do best – nothing. Unless carping, bemoaning and obstructing is viewed as doing something.
Beyond these three issues, it’s past time for Democrats to produce a progressive tax reform bill that addresses the disproportionately favorable treatment received by the rich that has characterized tax legislation since Ronald Reagan. While raising rates for wealthy individuals, particularly on unearned income, such a bill could lower corporate tax rates significantly while ensuring that profitable corporations actually pay taxes. If President Obama is serious about making income and wealth disparity the defining issue of his second term, this is a good place to start.
Finally, Obama and Democrats need to push much harder for a significant investment in our crumbling infrastructure and to restore cuts to science and technology research spending. Not all debt is created equal; the benefits of investments in infrastructure, science and technology and education will more than justify borrowing the money to pay for them, a lesson Republicans never fail to grasp.
The contrast between an agenda such as this and a GOP one that consists primarily of destroying health care reform, not raising taxes on even the mega rich and slashing programs for the poor and middle class in their phony crusade for fiscal rectitude, is one that Democrats should not be shy of drawing in 2014.