Are you thrilled about the Democrats having a majority in the House, come January? Remember what Will Rogers said about the Democrats: "I'm a member of no organized political party—I'm a Democrat." And recall others who have said that guiding Democrats through policy decisions is like herding cats.
There's a lot of talk now about "new, progressive" Democrats and their desire to make a real difference. But there are a lot of old Democrats who have prospered greatly since Bill Clinton dragged the Democratic Party far enough to the right to earn the undying enmity of the entire Republican establishment.
We need to think about how Democrats should govern come January. Is this a time to "get back" at Republicans who have stalled all forward progress since 2010? Is it time for "payback" for things done by corrupt committee chairs like Devin Nunez? Is it time to thumb noses across the aisle, and refuse to cooperate, as the Republicans have for years?
Seeking cooperation, reaching across the aisle, even taking seriously some Republican themes could be good for Democrats, particularly the new progressive representatives.
And how should the new, progressive Democrats deal with the old guard of their own party? In 1964, Bob Dylan wrote, "Your old road is rapidly aging, please get out of the new one if you can't lend a hand." But we know that the old congress people are not going to get out of the way. So how should the new crop deal with them?
Democrats should abandon the politics of divisiveness that have prospered so well for Republicans. Seeking cooperation, reaching across the aisle, even taking seriously some Republican themes could be good for Democrats, particularly the new progressive representatives.
Taking up some traditional Republican Party themes does not mean taking up traditional Republican Party solutions to problems. We have decades of data to show that the nation fares better under Democratic governance than under Republican governance. And that historical reality did not change as Bill Clinton strove so hard to drag the Democratic Party under the corporate tent. But the themes remain, as national problems remain. We can look at individual problems and think about ways Democrats can address them using Republican Party talking points.
Looking back at the Republican demigod, Ronald Reagan, let us recall how hard he tried to rein in wasteful Pentagon spending. (Let us not call it "defense spending" or "war spending." Reagan clearly recognized that $8,000 hammers and $25,000 Mr. Coffee machines were good for neither defense nor war—they were merely Pentagon boondoggles to shovel tax dollars to well-connected corporations.)
In this century, even under a previous Republican president, there were calls for a Pentagon audit. The Pentagon staunchly resisted. Since the Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, calls for a Pentagon audit have been muted, as Republican Party leaders have wallowed in the material benefits of being friends with the corporations who benefit from fat Pentagon contracts.
But fiscal responsibility is a Republican theme. The U.S. has by far the largest war machine on (and above) the planet. Yet we haven't actually won a war since WWII. Having discovered during the Cold War just how profitable war contracts could be, corporate America has constantly paid to have the biggest military tax dollars could buy, without any concern for actual fighting effectiveness.
The new Democratic majority in the House could take up the Republican theme of fiscal responsibility and begin to look at military spending boondoggles, for essentially the first time since Republican president Reagan tried it in the 1980s. The Democratic take on this Republican theme should be accountability. If the Pentagon won't audit itself and its boondoggle spending, then Congressional committees being asked to give the Pentagon money should inquire and research and determine whether the money will be properly spent. It is OUR money, not the Pentagon's money, and we have a right to ensure that it is not wasted.
Another Republican theme that Democrats might do well to explore and build on is welfare reform. All accurate data analysis shows that the RED Republican States collect more in Federal payments than they send in in Federal taxes. They are, every one of them, welfare states. But they are also states that don't spend the money they receive on educating their residents, or providing them with adequate health care, or environmental protection.
Essentially, each RED state collects vast sums of Blue state taxpayers' money each year. And the money they collect doesn't benefit their own residents, except for a few at the top. A lot of the money the RED states collect is Pentagon money. While we are told that schools and medical clinics need to cut back, the Pentagon spends hundreds of millions of tax dollars to build and maintain first class golf resorts for Generals and other high officers (not available to those who actually do the fighting). Tens of millions of Federal tax dollars get spent to preserve Confederate statues and worship sites, honoring the generals and politicians who led their own poorest citizens to fight to preserve the right to own other human beings as property.
Republicans were strident in demands that budgets be cut for "wasteful" things like public schools and clinics, and infrastructure. Democrats in the House, where spending bills originate, could be just as insistent that budgets be cut for wasteful spending on religious expressions, paying for fancy lifestyles for generals who are already paid hundreds of thousands of dollars a year (mostly for not winning wars), and on projects to advance anti-American ideas or just to provide handouts to businesses.
Another area that the Democrats could advance by pursuing a Republican theme is Immigration Reform. Democrats don't need to adopt the absurd Republican rhetoric of denying that President Obama really was the deporter-in-chief, or the denial that more people are leaving than entering the U.S.
Immigrants come here for better lives. Some come seeking work. Some come fleeing the violence and human degradation in U.S. created and propped-up corporate banana republics. For those seeking work, the guarantee right now is that U.S. corporations are allowed, without penalty, to hire undocumented immigrants, pushing down wages and enriching business owners at the expense of workers.
Democrats could address this immigration issue by enacting legislation that puts real teeth in enforcement of anti-hiring laws. Simply eliminating tax credits and deductions for any business that hires "illegals," would make a difference. (Maybe eliminating all tax breaks except those for health care and family care for employees would be better?)
How about a bill that offers protection to ANY employee who reports a violation to the government? Protection for undocumented whistle-blowers, perhaps coupled with a share of whatever penalties the government assesses against a violating business?
If hiring "illegals" was really illegal, with penalties sufficient to impose serious costs on the violator, the business community would quickly step up to demand that the government enact real, substantive immigration reform.
In 2018, the "fiscally responsible" Republicans in control of Congress denied $1.1 Billion in funding for veterans suffering from Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War. The same Republicans voted to give much more tax money to corporations and 0.01%-ers in "tax relief. Democrats could stop such madness in 2019.
All financial bills originate in the House, according to the original intent of our Founding Fathers. This gives the new Democratic majority major power to link spending with accountability. But as the example of New York's Tom Suozzi shows, Democrats are also subject to external corporate pressure. If we want real change, real improvement in governance from the new, progressive Democrats, those who got out the vote in November will have to stay engaged and involved once those we elected take their seats. Only we can hold their feet to the fire.