Opinion A Democratic ‘Contract With America’ for 2022


HR King
May 29, 2001
By Perry Bacon Jr.
Columnist |
June 3, 2022 at 7:00 a.m. EDT

Ahead of November’s midterm elections, Democrats should offer a straightforward, comprehensive agenda and commit to passing it if they keep control of Congress (or, in the case of the Senate, gain true control). Such an agenda could mobilize the party’s base, woo swing voters and, most important, guarantee that we don’t see a repeat of the demoralizing do-little Washington of the past two years.
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The Republican Party isn’t fit to lead, and most voters know it — that’s why Joe Biden won the presidency. But all those 2020 Biden voters shouldn’t be expected to turn out for two more years of Joe Manchin III (W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (Ariz.) blocking most legislation in the Senate, sometimes joined by moderate Democrats in the House. Case in point: The response from some congressional Democrats to the threat to Roe v. Wade being overturned has not been an urgent, aggressive legislative push but buck-passing — essentially, “You voters need to elect even more Democrats, then we might do something.”
Democrats should level with voters. Instead of trying to convince us that Biden’s first two years were great, they should just admit that they have fallen short and be frank about the problem: There was never really a Democratic “trifecta,” because Manchin and Sinema are more independents than they are Democrats.
They should be clear, too, about the solution: a Senate with at least 52 Democrats and a House with at least 218 Democrats. If they get that, they can say, they will pass a specific agenda, something like this:
  1. Eliminate the filibuster.
  2. A national law guaranteeing a right to an abortion in the first trimester and in all cases of rape and incest.
  3. A democracy reform law mandating independent commissions to draw state and congressional districts lines free of gerrymandering; vote-by-mail and two weeks of early voting; proportional representation through multi-member congressional districts; and measures to prevent election subversion.
  4. A ban on the sale of military-style weapons such as AR-15 rifles and high-capacity magazines, along with universal background checks for gun sales.
  5. A minimum income tax of at least 20 percent on billionaires.
  6. A ban on members of Congress buying individual stocks.
  7. National marijuana legalization.
  8. A climate change plan that puts the United States on a path to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
  9. A required civics and life-skills course for high school seniors, with the same curriculum throughout the country.
  10. Voluntary term limits of 12 years in Congress for all Democrats (six terms in the House, two in the Senate).
What connects these ideas? First, many of them are already popular. The civics and life-skills course, in particular, should appeal to Democrats, independents and even Republicans.

Second, they directly confront America’s biggest problem: the radicalized Republican Party and how our political system gives a small bloc of GOP voters, the party’s donors and its elected officials veto power over the preferences of most Americans, including many Republicans.
Third, they acknowledge this stark reality: The United States is experiencing a non-military, uncivil war that the Democrats must win.
The Republican agenda of expanding gun rights, narrowing voting rights and functionally abolishing abortion rights doesn’t seem coherent or logical until you view it as an agenda of White male Christian hegemony. Then it fits together perfectly. The Democrats must stop trying to duck the so-called culture wars and instead fight hard to win them. There is no middle ground between White male Christian hegemony and multiracial, multicultural social democracy — and the Democrats shouldn’t be shy about using their power to impose the latter, since it’s what a clear majority of Americans want.
But there is a catch, and it’s where the last item on my list comes in.
A Democratic agenda like this won’t be credible, particularly to voters who aren’t hardcore Democrats, if implementation relies on the same people who have long been in charge. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (Md.), Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (S.C.) and Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (N.Y.) have been in party leadership almost my entire adult life. As people who seem desperate to hang on to power even as they decline in effectiveness, they epitomize the problems with Washington. They should all pledge to step down and make room for new congressional leadership if the Democrats retain majorities, as Pelosi has already implied that she will.

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Term limits for members would have to be voluntary, because it’s not clear that they are constitutional. But a promise of new leadership on Capitol Hill, term limits for all members, a billionaires’ tax, a ban of members owning individual stocks and electoral reforms like multimember districts all push in the same direction — an acknowledgement that America’s economic and political establishments have failed and need to be changed.
I intentionally didn’t include a lot of economic policies on this list. Biden last year leaned into the idea that proposals such as the child tax credit in the economic stimulus would create a groundswell of support for Democrats. But there is little evidence that political theory panned out. Inflation, which I realize is a huge problem, poses a different kind of challenge. There is little evidence Democrats know how to address it, and even less that voters trust them on the issue.
I understand, too, that the Supreme Court, under its current membership, would likely strike down many of these proposals. We need court reform, probably something like the proposal of legal writer Elie Mystal to create a 29-member high court. But the case for Congress and the president reforming the Supreme Court would be much stronger if most Americans thought the legislative and executive branches were doing a good job. Basically no one outside of hardcore Democrats believes that now.
The Democrats can’t call this agenda a “Contract With America” because Republicans already used that 28 years ago. Something like “Promises to the People” would work fine. But whatever the slogan, the message should be clear: We failed, we will do better and we will put new people in charge who are better than we were.



HR Heisman
Jan 3, 2021
Defining a billionaire isn’t as easy as some might think.

climate change is too vague. State how many new nuclear reactors you want coming online in the next decade.

Devil is in the details and this type of grandstanding is played already.