Democrats need to break out of struggle between moderates and progressives

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The two most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C., are President Joe Biden and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.). 

Our checks and balances system built into the Constitution limits the power of each of the three branches of government, especially the presidency. Indeed, James Madison and his colleagues were preeminently concerned to vest power in the legislature and prevent the kind of autocratic power associated with the British Crown and European monarchies in general.

President Biden needs Congress to advance virtually any major agenda item he has, and Congress — given its current composition — can be prevented from passing major legislation if one U.S. Senator refuses to side with 49 other U.S. Senators from his own party.

Biden and his Capitol Hill allies will take another stab at passing some version of the Build Back Better Bill, even as the Russia-Ukraine War and the likely prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned dominate attention in Washington. 

The saga also illustrates how you can come from one of the smallest, least economically powerful states in the country and be one of the most powerful politicians in the country: Delaware and West Virginia are two such states.

Only in America do we see such a wide distribution of power — and only in America do we see a federal government as incapable of implementing major change. In parliamentary democracies, the executive and legislature are, in most cases, from the same party. When they want to move left, they do; when they want to move right, they do.  

Democrats in Washington today are still fighting over whether to be moderates or progressives: They are stuck. Some prominent swing state U.S. Senate primary races — such as Pennsylvania and North Carolina — have seen progressive rather than moderate candidates elected, but no one knows if this will pay off in the general election, especially against Trump-aligned Republicans.

On Capitol Hill, insiders have been saying that prospects of a Biden rescue of core elements of the Build Back Better Bill, including extending the child tax credit, child care subsidies, and lower prescription drug costs, are slim. This is the case so long as Manchin, whose popularity in conservative West Virginia soared 17 percent during the last year as he blocked the Biden agenda, has a vote in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) is also an impediment, but less of a challenge. 

It’s time for Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to advance one or more bills that will transcend the moderate vs. progressive battle. The national Democratic Party needs to be reset, even though most individual races will lean progressive or moderate. At some point, the entire party needs to move forward toward a new center for the entire country.

If the party cannot heal itself, it cannot heal the nation.

One place to start is family policy. Democrats want paid parental leave and major child care subsidies. Republicans have not budged. Democrats need to give in: Give the Republicans something that would interest them, notably a tax credit for stay-at-home parents. Give hard-working middle-class parents a choice between such a tax credit and child care subsidies after a period of paid parental leave.

Providing this option would speak to the massive cultural conflict in the country that is typically submerged in family policy debates: the side that wants to give women the path back to work after giving birth, and the side that wants parents to receive the choice to have one of them to stay home for several years with a newborn, actually mom or dad, or one of the moms or dads if it is an LGBTQ family.

Since the 1980s, Democrats have failed to pass paid parental leave and major child care subsidies at the federal level; it’s time to adopt a different strategy.

Even if offering the tax credit for stay-at-home parents fails to convince Manchin, it would help many of the Democrats running in November get reelected — or elected for the first time — because there are millions of voters who would respect a candidate who wanted to offer them or their adult children this choice.

It could help Democrats running for office begin to transcend the moderate vs. progressive battle within the party.

Dave Anderson is the editor of “Leveraging: A Political, Economic, and Societal Framework” (Springer, 2014). He is also the author of “Youth04: Young Voters, the Internet, and Political Power” (W.W. Norton & Company, 2004) and co-editor of “The Civic Web: Online Politics and Democratic Values” (Rowman and Littlefield, 2003). He has taught at George Washington University, the University of Cincinnati, and Johns Hopkins University. He was a candidate in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th Congressional District.

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