On Monday, the Democratic Party began to get separation from its standard-bearer Hillary Clinton in 2016, and moving forward with a first draft of a plan for the 2018 midterms. The New York Times reports, Congressional Democrats Promise a ‘Better Deal’ for American Workers:
The big ideas in the economic agenda that congressional Democrats unveiled on Monday, including a higher minimum wage and lower drug prices, are aimed at reclaiming the party’s populist mantle from President Trump.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the driving force behind this “Better Deal,” said that Mr. Trump won the presidency by promising to help working Americans, only to abandon them. The Democrats are now hoping to reclaim Congress by making a number of the same promises to the same people.
“Old-fashioned capitalism has broken down to the detriment of consumers,” Mr. Schumer said on Monday afternoon in Berryville, Va., about an hour west of Washington.
Yet there were some striking omissions in the plan. There was no talk about health insurance beyond prescription drug prices. There was no discussion of trade policy beyond a placeholder sentence promising more details later; Mr. Schumer’s office said Democrats planned to roll out a detailed trade agenda in the fall. And party leaders did not embrace liberal concerns about the outsize economic role of the financial industry.
The focus, instead, was on a fairly small set of battle-tested ideas. And though Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont was not present on Monday, the imprint of his presidential campaign was unmistakably present. Democrats proposed to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour — an idea the party’s 2016 nominee, Hillary Clinton, never heartily embraced.
The “Fight for $15” has energized parts of the Democratic base, and it has racked up impressive victories in states including New York and California and cities from Seattle to Washington.
Democrats also proposed new tax credits for job training, an old idea that has been tried many times before.
The party’s proposal to reduce the cost of living was its freshest set of ideas. That part embraces an emerging concern among liberal economists and activists that corporate concentration is damaging the American economy.
Since the early 1980s, the federal government has intervened to prevent mergers only when there was clear evidence that consumers would be harmed, giving consolidation the benefit of the doubt. That has allowed a few giant companies to dominate industries including air travel, cable television and the eyeglasses business.
The pace of corporate mergers reached a peak in 2015. The next year, the Obama administration published a report arguing that the economy was suffering from a dearth of competition. Other studies found that consolidation is not only driving up prices but also causing other problems, including reduced investment in innovation.
“This matters because giant corporations jack up prices and cut corners on quality,” said Senator Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts Democrat who has been a highly visible advocate of the issue. She said at the event on Monday that consolidation also allowed corporations to increase profits while holding down wages, and to exercise outsize political influence.
The Democrats proposed changing the merger rules, instructing regulators to presume that consolidation is bad for consumers. They suggested the creation of a federal office, a “consumer competition advocate,” that would report problems to regulators.
The idea replicates the party’s strategy of creating an independent Consumer Financial Protection Bureau after the financial crisis. Democrats regard existing agencies as overly beholden to corporate interests and insufficiently attentive to consumer abuses. The creation of the protection bureau, in 2010, removed those responsibilities from the Federal Reserve and other agencies charged with overseeing the health of the financial system. And Democrats view that agency as a success story; it has aggressively pursued a range of measures to protect financial consumers.
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Democrats also took on the pharmaceutical industry, proposing a number of measures they said would help reduce the cost of medications.
One proposal would give Medicare greater latitude to negotiate drug prices, an idea that Mr. Trump has also endorsed. The intuitive appeal is clear: Medicare’s drug plans cover more than 40 million people — surely it can obtain a decent group discount.
But experts including the Congressional Budget Office and Medicare’s actuary see little upside in the change. The government requires Medicare to cover nearly every approved treatment for cancer and a range of other conditions. Since Medicare cannot say no to drug companies, it lacks the leverage to negotiate effectively.
Democrats also proposed the creation of a federal agency that would police drug prices, “dedicated to stopping this outrageous behavior in its tracks.”
But the broader reality is that the federal government has sought to encourage innovation by codifying the industry’s profitability, for example by maintaining stronger intellectual property protections than drug companies enjoy in the rest of the world.
On that, the Democrats did not propose any fundamental changes.
The roll out was accompanied by op-eds from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi at the Washington Post, Americans deserve better than the GOP agenda, so we’re offering a better deal, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer at the New York Times, A Better Deal for American Workers.
David Weigel of the Washington Post reports, With ‘Better Deal,’ Democrats (temporarily) calm a restive left:
The rollout of congressional Democrats’ 2018 messaging, the “Better Deal,” was preceded by mockery and obscured by breaking news.
It also seemed to work.
To the happy surprise of Democratic leaders, the economics-focused agenda earned positive reviews on the left, where the party is regularly accused of compromise or sellout. There was antitrust language, and an apology for the party’s neoliberal past. There was a reiteration that the party now backed a $15 minimum wage. There was a door swinging open to expanded or even universal Medicare.
Splinter, the newly renamed media company that absorbed Gawker Media last year, pronounced the agenda “modestly left-wing” and advised that it “contains some sensible, popular left-wing economic proposals — like raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour — that Sen. Bernie Sanders fought for during his 2016 primary campaign. It’s mostly pretty good.”
In the Fiscal Times, author and economics writer David Dayen wrote that Democrats had “hit the target,” by incorporating robust proposals for tacking in monopolies. “A shockingly large portion of the platform is dedicated to breaking corporate power, and in particular monopoly concentration,” Dayen wrote. “It’s a credit to the emerging New Brandeis movement that these ideas have been embraced at the highest levels of a political party.”
In the broader activist community, there was more arched-eyebrow praise. AllOfUs, a group started by veterans of the Sanders presidential campaign who wanted to challenge “corporate Democrats,” issued a statement praising the plan but demanding that Democrats explain “how race and identity fit in.”
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The Better Deal, which included nothing that the Democrats’ most endangered incumbents fear running on — no environmental or social issues — seemed to slam the door on small-government ideas that had occasionally infiltrated the party. Six years after the Obama White House nearly signed off on a deal to curb entitlement spending, the Democratic agenda called for either maintaining or expanding existing programs. The crusade for Social Security privatization, which once had some Democratic allies, is now over in both parties.
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A few hours after the big Better Deal rollout, AllOfUs announced that it would help create an alternative — a People’s Platform — that had been discussed in progressive circles for months.
“A Better Deal is a step toward progressive populism, but not enough,” wrote AllOfUs spokesman Waleed Shahid. “Democrats should embrace the #PeoplesPlatform and take advantage of their historic opportunity to create a nation where all Americans have the things we need to thrive: a decent job, an education, health care, safety and a livable planet.”
Finally, Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post suggests, Forget ‘A Better Deal.’ Here’s what would actually work for Democrats.
I’m still waiting to hear the “bold solutions” that Democrats promise. I can think of one possibility: Why not propose some version of truly universal single-payer health care?
Yes, that would be risky. But it might generate real excitement among the Democratic base — and also grab the attention of some of the GOP’s working-class supporters. Incrementalism is not the answer. Democrats need to go big or go home.
Robinson is wrong that the slogan is in response to “The Art of The Deal” by Donald Trump. Robinson should know it is built upon the historical roots of the “Square Deal” by Teddy Roosevelt, the “New Deal” by Franklin Roosevelt, and the “Fair Deal” by Harry Truman.
Remember, the roll out of the “Better Deal” is only a first draft, and will be revised several times before the 2018 election.