An Rx for Congressional Democrats

Monday, October 17, 2005

An Rx for Congressional Democrats

As Zoe mentioned in her post earlier this morning, the House GOP leadership has given approval to an ambitious plan to slash Medicaid and other federal programs.

Of course, you can't beat something with nothing. If Democrats were shrewd (yes, I'm being rather fanciful), they would respond to this Republican plan of spending cuts with a compelling alternative. Zoe hints at the kind of alternative Dems could put forward -- I'm going to take her thoughts a few steps further.

The Democrats in Congress should offer an alternative that:
1. points out that the Bush tax cuts played a big role in running up the deficit and urging a "suspension" of those tax cuts for everyone earning more than $150,000 a year.

2. agrees that new spending has also contributed to the higher deficit, but argues that there are much wiser areas to cut than the programs the GOP is targeting. Unlike the GOP's likely targets, Dems' cuts would cause little or no pain for children, the disabled, veterans and ordinary working people. To this end, the Dems should urge an immediate repeal of all of the earmarks that were in the controversial highway bill that Congress passed and Bush signed (even though it violated his supposed spending ceiling) back in the summer. According to one report, the bill contained roughly 6,500 earmarks specifically requested by individual members of Congress -- earmarks that add up to $24 billion. Dems can acknowledge that a handful of those earmarks may have been justified, but they can point out that scrapping all of them is a way to show the nation a clear message that Congress is serious about reigning in spending.

3. finds the "poster children" for the likely GOP spending cut proposals. Most Americans don't mind cutting "programs." The key is for Dems to put a face on the people whose livelihoods would be affected by these cuts. These images can be highly persuasive. (Remember: Bush managed to convince many lower-middle-class Americans that they'd benefit from his tax cuts by finding a non-representative family that, due to unusual circumstances, seemed to benefit from his tax cuts and putting on stage with him at public appearances.)

4. looks for any way to link what GOP lawmakers want to cut to homeland security and disaster preparedness. To win back the "security moms" as 2006 approaches, Dems should point out how past Republican spending cuts and the new wave of proposed cuts cripples the ability of state and national first-responders to act quickly and undermines the ability to monitor and investigate potential terrorist activity. The GOP used the "terror" card against Dems effectively in '04, and Democrats should vow to not let that happen again.
Pursuing this strategy will simultaneously:

* remind voters of the huge deficit that Republicans have allowed under their watch. We know from polling that independent voters and "swing" voters tend to be more concerned about the deficit than others. And winning back these middle-of-the-road voters is critical in 2006.

* dispels the "tax-and-spend" tag that Republicans constantly try to pin on Dems. Even with the surplus left over as Clinton left office, this image lingers on among many voters. Challenging this image is key to Democrats becoming a majority party.

* reassure core Democratic constituencies that the party will fight sweeping cuts in Medicaid, student loans and other beneficial programs.

I'm not wedded to every single detail provided herein, but this is the outline of a strategy that I truly believe could renew America's confidence in Democrats' ability to govern effectively. It's smart policy, and it's smart politics.

Comments? Additional ideas? I'm all ears.

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