Can Democrats Shed The Phony "Obstructionist" Label And Dictate The Terms Of The Debate?
As a follow-on to the post I put up from this morning about whether or not Democrats should offer up their own plans on a range of issues, I wanted to offer several thoughts.
First, CA Pol Junkie raises a good point about the Contract with America. In a roughly similar situation over a decade ago, the Gingrich Republicans didnít sunshine the Contract until just before the 1994 midterms. Gingrich attacked the Democratic majorities in both houses in general terms in 1993 for their entrenched nature and for being beholden to special interests and even for being corrupt. But the media back then as I remember it didnít bash Gingrich for not offering specific alternatives in 1993, so Gingrich was given the opportunity to wait until the second half of 1994 to roll out his plan on his timetable. Of course, the corporate GOP-friendly media of 2005 wants the Democrats to show their cards a year early and is repeating the GOP talking points that the Democrats have no solutions.
Having said that, it is a fact of todayís media culture that this corporate GOP-friendly media will continue to bash the Democrats along these lines until next year, thereby reinforcing the GOP-scripted meme that the Democrats are obstructionist and have no solutions. Sure, itís inconsistent with what happened in 1993-1994, but we have a different media now than then. Also, perhaps the GOP and their friends in the media are fully expecting the Democrats to offer nothing of consequence heading into next year other than attacks against the GOP/Bush record. Would the GOP be prepared if the Democrats actually launched specific proposals as ďnonnegotiableĒ principles, and forced the debate back onto the Republicans for a change?
We may have the chance to find out. Almost under the radar screen today, and in answer to Steven Pearlsteinís piece in the Post that I referenced earlier, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democrats issued their plan for health care today. It is a balanced plan that aims to fix the flaws in the Medicare drug bill, and to expand health care in this country through existing means (Medicare and Medicaid) and with tax credits for small employers and the self-employed. It has the beauty of forcing the debate away from Social Security and towards health care, and it will force the GOP to oppose it on the basis of cost, which then allows the Democrats to argue the issue on terms favorable to them, since polls show that voters would rather deal with health care than protect the Bush tax cuts.
This got me to thinking why canít the Democrats turn the tables on the House and Senate GOP like Reid has already done by telling Frist that if the nuclear option is unleashed, Reid will force the GOP to act on a Democratic agenda of 9 bills that all deal with real issues facing the country, rather than whatever the American Taliban wants. The GOP in both houses does not want to be forced into votes killing these proposals in committee before they even see the light of day, because it will only reinforce the argument that Democrats will make next year that an arrogant and all-too-powerful entrenched GOP majority in Congress is the reason that the peopleís business is not being done.
Here are some ideas:
1. Pelosi should tell DeLay that the health care package sunshined today represents non-negotiable principles for the Democrats. The GOP can both be part of the solution now and push through these ideas in a bipartisan way, or have these health care ideas rammed down their obstructionist throats next fall as part of the Democratsí Promise to America.
2. Reid and Pelosi should tell Frist and DeLay that Medicare, Medicaid, and expanding health coverage to the uninsured will be dealt with first before changes are considered to Social Security. This should also be a non-negotiable principle, and Democrats will not engage negotiations for a solution on Social Security until health care is addressed, and until tax fairness is taken up as well, since it is Bush's tax cuts and deficit spending that has drained the Treasury of the lock-box funds set aside for Social Security by the previous, more responsible administration.
3. Reid and Pelosi should tell Frist and DeLay that there will be a tax fairness package put forward by Democrats in the coming weeks, that will represent non-negotiable principles for the Democrats. The package should deal with corporate and individual tax avoidance, abolishment of tax shelters and offshore tax havens, a reconsideration of all forms of corporate welfare, and a reconsideration of the Bush first term tax cuts and collection of taxes for their role in the low levels of federal revenue and deficits they have produced. I mean, even Bush the other day at his press conference was amazed that there is over $330 billion annually in uncollected taxes. Tax fairness, can also be married with a trade fairness appeal that the Democrats are already making.
4. Reid and Pelosi should tell Frist and DeLay that there will be a solution on Social Security, and it must include additional revenues from an increase in the withholding tax ceiling, as well as benefit adjustments along the lines of what Robert Pozen is saying now (heís not advocating personal accounts). But Reid and Pelosi should tell Frist and DeLay that the Democrats will negotiate none of this now until health care and tax fairness are addressed first. After all, it was GOP Ways and Means Committee chairman Bill Thomas himself who said earlier this year that rather than deal just with Social Security, Congress should deal with tax reform. Democrats should take Thomas up on that and turn the tables on the GOP by making the issue tax fairness and not another excuse for the GOP to pass along Corporate and wealthy Americaís tax burden onto the working classes.
My point is that Democrats can shake off the corporate media imposed mantle of obstructionism and push the GOP back on its heels at the same time by telling DeLay and Frist that Democrats are ready to address issues that matter to everyday Americans now, on terms that are non-negotiable. If the GOP wants to solve problems, then Democrats are ready for bipartisanship if the GOP meets the principles Democrats have put forward. If the GOP wants to play games and use the same old framing and Luntz-speak games to mask their own obstructionism, then the GOP will see this campaign waged against them in the fall of 2006. Itís their choice: do they want to walk into a buzz saw next year, or do they, the GOP, want to make these political nightmares go away now?