By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer
Washington (PAI) – Democrats can reclaim their status as the majority party in the U.S., and keep it in the future, by creating and running on a unified agenda to bolster and restore the middle class, the party's top “messaging” lawmaker Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) says.
Speaking at the National Press Club Nov. 25, Schumer said the unified agenda needs to also include raising the minimum wage and enacting trade policies that prevent export of U.S. jobs.
Schumer's speech comes as his party dissects the results of the Nov. 4 election, where it lost more than a dozen more U.S. House seats to the GOP, along with its U.S. Senate majority. The GOP now has its highest number of lawmakers, on both sides of Capitol Hill, since the 1947-49 “Do Nothing” 80th Congress that passed the anti-worker Taft-Hartley Act.
RESTORING THE MIDDLE CLASS
Restoring the middle class must start with restoring people's faith that the federal government can actually help them, Schumer said.
“We're a pro-government party, we have been all along and we can't run from it,” he told one questioner. But Democrats must prove to the middle class how government can actually aid in turning themselves around economically.
“Unleashing the private sector,” as the Republicans advocate, “won't solve middle-class needs or pull the middle class out of the morass,” Schumer contended.
“Only a strong government” that can stand up to the forces that are destroying the middle class will do that, he said.
The proof of creating such a strong government would come in specifics, to be knit into an overall program with that overarching theme, he explained.
Schumer will take his message to fellow Democrats in the New Year, using his podium as chair of the Senate Democrats' Policy and Communications Center. He said Democrats did not run on the improving economy this year – and even if they had, voters with declining median incomes would not have believed them.
POLICIES THAT HELP
Democrats can't stop globalization and technology, that reduced middle-class incomes for a decade and threaten to do so for another decade, nor should they, he said. Instead, Democrats must create policies to help people adapt to those new realities.
“If we are to fulfill our pact with the middle class, we must articulate policies that will make their lifestyle more affordable, period. These policies must be aimed at the 'who,' not the 'what,'” he declared.
CHANGING THE RULES
Not all of these policies involve spending, Schumer said.
For instance, raising the minimum wage, negotiating good trade policies that prevent jobs from going overseas and changing labor laws so workers can demand more pay don't involve spending, but rather “changing the rules of the game” so the middle class “can fight the forces they're up against.”
That includes trade pacts. “The overwhelming view of the average voter is that trade overall has hurt their wages, and that we should do something about it,” he added.
Schumer contends Democrats made a key mistake after they won total control in 2009: Not continuing to concentrate on the economy and restoring the middle class even after passing a watered-down stimulus law to haul the U.S. out of the Great Recession.
Instead, pressured by President Barack Obama, Democrats approved the Affordable Care Act, expanding health care coverage to millions of uninsured.
Schumer called solving health care attacking “the wrong problem.”
Asked if he tried to talk his colleagues out of that course, Schumer said “yes.” Nobody asked if he tried to talk the President out of it.
“When the Democrats focused on health care, the average middle-class person thought 'The Democrats are not paying enough attention to me,'” he said. They were, and are, more concerned about their jobs and the economic future of themselves and their kids, he declared.
Health care's passage, on party-line votes, gave the advantage to the GOP and particularly to its Tea Party wing, Schumer said. The voters' anti-government revolt in 2010 – which gave the GOP House control.
Subsequent federal errors and stumbles also aided the GOP too, he said.
Obama won in 2012, the senator contended, in a “negative election” and a “rejection of Tea Party extremists.”
PUNISHED AT THE POLLS
But voters held Democrats responsible for later problems, from the ACA's botched website rollout to Veterans Affairs Department problems to disputes over responding to the Islamic Republic of Iraq and the Levant. So they punished Democrats at the polls this year, he said.
That reversal to the GOP must change, he declared, not just to let his party reclaim control, but for the good of the U.S.
Another decade of declining incomes, Schumer warned, would “produce an America that is “bitter, divided and susceptible to demagogues.
“This loss of income is a fundamental shift” as it occurred even when Gross Domestic Product and worker productivity rose “in three quarters of the years involved,” he said. “But you can't have labor going down forever.
“Polling shows the middle-class voter is saying, 'Make my life better.' The administration should work with us on that. The agenda has to be bigger, broader, more prominent, and all across the Democratic Party.”