Progressives Actually Like Democrats’ New Message

WASHINGTON Leading progressives praised the new message unveiled by top congressional Democrats Monday that stresses economic policy, suggesting the party is moving on from the internecine finger-pointing that has dogged it since Novembers election.

Under the slogan A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future,House and Senate Democratic leaders laid out a three-pronged platform with ideas for creating decent-paying jobs; lowering household expenses, chief among them prescriptions drugs; and improving access to the education and training Americans need to compete in the job market.

The proposals represent the partys first major attempt to recalibrate its central themes ahead of the 2018 midterm elections and restore its historic reputation as the party of ordinary working people following RepublicanDonald Trumps surprise victory in 2016s presidential race. In a symbolic bid to emphasize their desire to reach a wider swath of Americans, party leaders announced the new agenda in Berryville, Virginia some 65 miles from the halls of power in Washington.

Prominent liberals, who have been nudging the party in this direction for years, mostly welcomed the rebranding effort.

This is a very refreshing message it doesnt sound like poll-tested messaging. It sounds authentic and passionate and bold, said Tamara Draut, vice president for policy and research at Demos, a progressive think tank and advocacy group.

A Better Deal, and more importantly, what [Senate Minority Leader] Chuck Schumer and [House Minority Leader] Nancy Pelosi are saying about their new focus, is extremely strong, said Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, a nonprofit fighting to expand Social Security and Medicare. Its not perfect, its not exactly what the grassroots is demanding. But as a starting point it is very, very strong.

All Of Us, a pressure group that has threatened to help challenges in primaries against Democratic lawmakers deemed insufficiently progressive, mixed praise with demands for greater action.

The group termed the agenda a step toward embracing progressive populism that doesnt go far enough.

The plan from the leading Democrats is still unclear about where the party stands on tackling climate change, health care, rising racism, and free higher education, and if theyre willing to force the billionaire class to finally pay their fair share, All Of Us said in a statement

Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, a group formed to carry on the legacy of the Sen. Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, also noted the omission of climate change and racial justice policies, as well as a plan to provide free college education. She credited the party for acknowledging major deficiencies, but said the real proof would be in efforts to follow through on the agendas lofty goals.

I hope this is not just a cute way to try to appease folks by forming another committee. We dont need a committee we need a commitment to real policy changes, she said.

A Senate Democratic aide who requested anonymity to comment said the new message was focused exclusively on economic policy, which did not indicate any less of a commitment to combatting climate change, fighting for racial justice and other matters.

Tom Williams/Getty Images
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), left, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and other Democrats arrive to introduce “A Better Deal” in Berryville, Virginia. 

Even with the criticism, the response is a far cry from the mockery elicited by an earlier, leaked draft of the Democratic slogan last week: A Better Deal: Better Skills, Better Jobs, Better Wages.

The phrases similarity to the tagline of ads forPapa Johns pizza chain and prominent placement of Better Skills an apparent nod to a much-maligned economic theorythat blames joblessness on a dearth of skilled workers drew scorn from all corners of the political world.

The details of the proposal and removal of the offending Better Skills clause quieted much of the criticism.

Absolutely, we need to help people get the skills they need, said Draut. But it is not the first thing we need to do and it is definitely not the first thing people want to hear. Even people with the right skills are having a hard time getting ahead.

A senior aide to a House Democrat credited Schumers political instincts for the partys populist pivot.

Chuck Schumer knows which way the wind is blowing. Cant say that for other members of leadership, said the aide, who requested anonymity to comment.

A Better Deal combines several well-known, albeit recent additions to the Democratic canon a nationwide $15 minimum wage; a $1 trillion infrastructure package; 12 weeks of paid family leave; protecting Social Security and Medicare with new ideas, including a small-business tax credit for job training and apprenticeship programs. These latter proposals are likely to find favor with the partys pro-business wing.

In presenting ways to lower families costs of living, however, Schumer, Pelosi and their deputies embraced an anti-monopoly, economic populism that bears little resemblance to the centrist triangulation of former President Bill Clinton, or even the free-trade-friendly technocracy of former President Barack Obama.

You have seen a shift away from the centrist politics and policies of the Democratic Party toward bold ideas that meet the challenges facing working people today, Draut said. It is a progression under way for some time now that has solidified.

Specifically, Democrats want to empower the Medicare programto negotiate lower drug prices with pharmaceutical companies, create a new federal agency to investigate and enforce action against prescription drug price gouging, and demand that drug companies explain significant price increases.

The party is also taking on the issue of corporate consolidation, promising tougher antitrust rules aimed at curbing mega-mergers and having a federal watchdog a 21st century trust buster enforce the new regulations even after a merger takes place.

The growing size and reach of a handful of corporations from banks to airlines to tech giants like Amazon, Google and Facebook has been a subject of growing interest among progressive intellectuals who blame new monopoly power for problems ranging from the 2008 financial crisis to wage stagnation and the decline of rural America.

Top proponents of bold antitrust action,which elected Democrats have sometimes been slower to get behind than policy gurus, were enthusiastic about the new platform and the rhetoric used to promote it.

The Democratic leaders also promised to follow up with additional proposals aimed at making child care more affordable; cracking down on foreign trade abuses; ensuring high-speed internet access; and improving retirement security.

Signs have emerged that the party is eager to emulate the fiery tone and economic message of Sanders, one of a small number of elected officials who can pack arenas on short notice and, according to at least one poll, the nations most popular politician. In a Sunday New York Times op-ed previewing the new agenda, Schumer echoed Sanders populist themes, promising a better deal so that this country works for everyone again, not just the elites and special interests.

Democrats have too often hesitated from taking on misguided policies directly and unflinchingly so much so that many Americans dont know what we stand for, he wrote.

Sanders, now a member of Senate Democratic leadership despite maintaining his voter registration as an independent, was among those plugging A Better Deal in a 3-minute promotional video accompanying the rollout in Berryville.

Of course, the party has not embraced all of the Vermont senators policy preferences steering clear of single-payer health insurance and free college tuition plans that were the cornerstones of his presidential campaign.

The decision not to stick uniformly to the slate of proposals favored by the left won the approval of some Democratic moderates.

Theres something in there for all wings of the party, said Ladan Ahmadi, a spokeswoman for Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank.

Ahmadi cited the inclusion of job training tax credits as an example of the type of policies more accommodating to the likes of Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.), a fiscal conservative.

Yet in a Sunday appearance on ABCs This Week Schumer went further than either he or Pelosi have ever gone toward endorsing government-run health insurance i.e., a single-payer system. That idea is gaining traction with the Affordable Care Act, a public-private patchwork, on the chopping block.

Predicting that Republicans would fail to repeal Obamacare and that the two parties would then come together to stabilize the marketplaces created by the law, Schumer said, were going to look at broader things single payer is one of them.

Other options on the table, he added, include lowering Medicares age eligibility to 55 and allowing consumers to buy into Medicare or Medicaid.

Those weary of the partys attempts to pin the blame for Trumps election on the interference of either the Russian government or former FBI director James Comey expressed relief that Schumer was willing to take a hard look in the mirror.

Its about time! It only took them about 8 months to realize that the Russia narrative aint working, said Turner, who is also a former Ohio state senator.

In the aftermath of the election, Democrats have been plagued by feuds between warring factions of the party with competing explanations for recent electoral failures.

The disagreements over the partys message and focus remain real, but the largely positive reactions to A Better Deal suggest a fragile detente has taken hold.

Im not interested in replaying the past, said Lawson, who backed Sanders overHillary Clinton in the Democrats 2016 presidential primary race. Im interested in moving forward and winning and taking on the billionaire class and putting in place policies that work for the American people. The way you do it is making clear whose side youre on.

Read more:

A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future

Senate Democrats unveil their bold, new agenda, "A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future," that will boost wages, lower costs, and unrig the economy to make it work for all Americans, not special interests or just the wealthiest few.

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