Will Rogers famously said that he was not a member of an organized political party; he was a Democrat. In this day and age, Democrats can no longer turn a blind eye to serious political strategy.
It was shocking to Democrats after the 2016 election how quickly the Republicans moved to implement their agenda. The contrast with what happened after the Democrats won a filibuster-proof majority in the House and Senate in 2008 was striking. Where in 2009, Democrats held more than a hundred hearings on their health care reform bill, and they did not pass legislation they could easily have passed with their majority such as cap and trade for greenhouse gasses, a higher minimum wage, fairer tax policy, or greater protections for unions, they took no such steps. The Republicans by contrast, have shown no such restraint.
This is because, as usual, the Republicans care about results while we Democrats care about the idea of a successful polity. Given the success of Republicans in destroying the middle class and increasing the wealth gap, we no longer have that luxury. While we must hope that we can at least take the House in the 2018 election, and pray that we can also take the Senate then, we must plan ahead to the potential that the 2020 election might represent.
The only reason the Republicans have the potential to hold onto the Senate at all this year is due to the fact that the Senate elects one third of its members in each election. As a result, the Senators up for re-election this year were re-elected in 2012, when Obama won and when the Republicans fielded some disastrously bad candidates in key races. They were elected in 2006, when Democrats took control of Congress due to the public’s increasing disenchantment with George W. Bush and his wars. As a result, Democratic Senators are up for re-election this year who are sitting in traditionally Republican seats.
This situation is a contrast with 2016, and emphasizes the missed opportunity that year was for the Democrats. That election was six years after 2010 when Republicans had won Senate seats that were traditionally Democratic due to the disastrous first mid-term election of Obama’s Presidency. Remember that then, Republicans took back the House from the Democrats and took control of many state governments, setting themselves up for the extreme gerrymandering we are now dealing with in the wake of the 2010 census. As a result, we really should have taken the Senate in 2016. This year is not so good for us.
Anyway, 2020 seems like it might be a better year for Democrats to take the Senate if they don’t succeed this year. Furthermore, we must hope that we win the Presidency and hold onto the House after what (we hope) will be a smashing victory in 2018. The result would be a federal government once again under the control of one party, but this time it would be the Democrats.
Assuming it is unlikely that the Democrats will win a filibuster-proof majority in 2020, we must get rid of the filibuster. Republicans have shown that it serves no purpose in stopping them from acting — we must behave like them in that regard. Too many people have been hurt by Republican policies to allow them to go on unchecked any longer.
While the political classes work to win the 2018 and 2020 elections, policy people must be putting together an agenda that is ready for approval by Democrats on day one of the 2021 Congress. I would suggest that the agenda include at least some of the following:
- card-check, anti-strikebreakers, anti-right to work legislation, and changes to the law that require unions to represent non-member employees. Such steps will dramatically assist unions in re-establishing their presence and reverse the policies Republicans have been using to attack them. Research has shown that unions are critical in both decreasing economic inequality, and in improving Democratic party political performance. Steps to rescue unions from their legislated downward spiral are essential to the long-term revival of both the middle class and the Democratic party.
- dramatic increase in the minimum wage, a requirement that to receive federal education funds states seriously increase teacher pay, and increases in higher education funding tied to requirements that tuition increases be limited. The greatest threat to Republican dominance is an educated population.
- legislative efforts to reverse the regulatory relaxations the Trump administration has enacted that include specific requirements making it harder for them to make these changes administratively without Congressional approval in the future.
- robust cap and trade bill to seriously address greenhouse emissions;
- a public option for Obamacare (essentially the ability of individuals below 62 to buy into Medicare) and reforms to undo the Trump administration’s attacks upon the law;
- serious protections for the vote including reauthorization of civil rights act protections, new sanctions against Russia, and perhaps a law against excessive gerrymandering that requires a representative district before a new member of Congress gets seated;
- and a dramatic increase in taxes upon the wealthy and corporations that more than undoes the Republican tax cut of last year.
This list is far from exhaustive, but at least it gives some direction as to the critical issues Democrats should be preparing to pass quickly and without debate in the early days of the 2021 Congress.
Furthermore, these should be completed bills that are ready to go that have been vetted by the various interest groups that make up the Democratic party to ensure that there is broad support for this legislation from day one, and that we can pass it without the usual intra-party bloodletting that always characterizes our party.
We cannot afford to shy away from such measures. In Michigan, in the early 1990s, Democrats had control of the state House of Representatives. Democrats at the time had a couple of structural advantages, including robust union support and the right to hold charitable bingos to raise money for political operations. During a brief period in which Republicans, through a fluke, held a majority in the Michigan House, then-governor John Engler pushed through legislation to undo the Democratic advantages. The result has been a state legislature largely controlled by Republicans since then despite the fact that Michigan statewide tends to lean Democratic.
As Democrats, we must take our political needs as seriously as Republicans do. They understand that political success leads to policy success, while we Democrats think the two are unrelated. Given the harm done to real Americans by the GOP, we can no longer afford that luxury.