A Progressive Contract with America

Cody Hoesly

So folks are talking about the 2006 election, how can liberals/progressives/Democrats win?  Mention has been made of an alternative Contract with America that would highlight the differences between the Republican vision and the Democratic vision.

The positives of such a move are many:  it shows the Left as having a positive vision (instead of just putting down conservative ideas); it shows what that vision is in clear and simple terms; and it shows that the Left is working to make that vision a reality.

Here' s a proposal, not that it's perfect.  I'm sure I've missed important constituencies and policies, and this is a list of mostly generalities (concrete proposals would need to be promoted as well), but I think the following is useful and that something like it is not only useful but necessary for Democratic success at the polls and in the government.

1.  The Working Family Income Act - raise the minimum wage, increase employment benefits and worker protections, stimulate domestic job growth
2.  The Fiscal Responsibility Act - promise and implement balanced budgets, pay down the national debt, make earmarks proportionate to a state's proportionate contribution to the national budget
3.  The Energy Independence Act - increase research into and adoption of alternative energy forms
4.  The Healthy America Act - fund stem cell research and more medical research generally, adopt a good prescription drugs plan, increase access to healthcare
5.  The Career Opportunity for All Act - ensure access to affordable student loans, increase science research, rework education from a k-12 model to a k-graduate degree model, ensure the teaching of evolution and other commonly accepted scientific theories, increase funding for community colleges and particularly their ability to serve as career enhancement centers for those who need more education to meet the needs of a changing economy
6.  The Accountable Government Act - institute lobbying reform, ensure open & honest government, and governmental integrity
7.  The National Security Act - refocus our national security strategy from iraq to our nation's borders, increase port security, work with allied nations in a meaningful manner to counter terrorism and protect America
8.  The Family Restoration Act - raise the thresholds for application of the alternative minimum tax and estate tax, enact  other family-friendly and entreprenurial tax reforms, ensure access to family planning methods and abortion, fund fetal, infant and child care, ensure equal treatment of minorities across the spectrum
9.  The Livable Communities Act - incentivize land use planning, fund more public transportation, promote environmental restoration
10.  The Small Business Enhancement Act - reform corporate governance to ensure accountability to shareholders and reduce CEO corruption and misincentives, help small businesss with red tape, reform corporate taxation
  • Former Salem Staffer (unverified)

    Nice job, Cody. It's about time the Democrats articulated a clear vision for the future, and you've done the best job I've seen anyone do so far.

  • Tim Jensen (unverified)

    More and bigger government is not going to inspire anyone to join us. I am not trying to be harsh but these are proposals that we as emocrats would have put forward in 1980.

    How about stealing some issues from the Repubs that we can make better.

    How about making health care consumer driven, ideas like the HSA but really empower the consumer and make it also a savings account for the future.

    How about making land use planning an out-come based proposal. Developers have the freedom to bring anything to the planning board for review...without us limiting them with some strict limiting rules which take away creativity. Go over the top of the righties with this.

    How about getting our union friends back to work with real family wage jobs by giving some flexibility in some of these forest rules...I mean some our you are religious on these regulations, but be real...the trees are cut here or somewhere else. Let go get that down lumber and get some union jobs out there, paying a family wage and paying good dues for organizing.

    These are some quick ideas that would shock the system and show that Democrats are going to think out-side of our special interest backers.

    Just some thoughts -- TJ

  • LT (unverified)

    I have something more general than what TJ said.

    6. The Accountable Government Act - institute lobbying reform, ensure open & honest government, and governmental integrity.

    How about legislators campaigning on bringing back relevant, well advertised JOINT Ways and Means Committee hearings, incl. that great tour that W & M took around the state in 2005? And leadership being required to accept the results of the W & M process rather than bullying those who don't do what their caucus tells them to do in closed caucus meetings? The constitution begins "we the people", not "they the caucus" or lobbyists, or anyone else.

    Campaign on never again any legislative leader using the phrase "in the negotiation room" because they have sworn to do public budgets in public at open hearings!

    Even more "radical", how about legislators promising to hold frequent town hall meetings (if they don't live near Salem, they could do them whenever they get home from the district) both during and after legislative sessions? I mean the sort of thing where legislators talk and then answer questions about actual legislation from actual citizens.

    For all the talk about "big government", Health Savings Acccounts, etc. what about talking about how proposals would actually work and how they would affect ordinary families? Why would a health savings account be a good deal for a retail worker or a temp employee?

    What exactly is meant by "flexibility in forest rules"? If that means allowing logging in areas where runoff might affect drinking water or logging might contribute to landslides, count me out.

    Let's have an open public discussion about what OSU learned from the controversy over the study published by the graduate student. Is there really any scientific evidence that logging the Buscuit fire area within 6 months or so would have done better things for that area than what actually has happened? Is helicopter logging better than boots on the ground logging? And let's re-open the debate on the whole timber sale process--is it really a good deal financially for all concerned? Is there a guarantee no standing old growth will but cut down in the process? Is it really a money raiser or a money loser for governments? Once the downed timber is logged, then what happens to those jobs?

    How about a proposal that budgets will be pay as you go on both the federal and state level, and tax cuts are considered the expenditures that they are unless it can be documented that a tax cut brought in money for the treasury (the only real "revenue")?

    How about more honesty from all politicians?

    One more thing--about the working families item. If there were a crackdown on hiring "independent contractors" when there is law saying such workers are really employees, that would help in many ways.

  • jami (unverified)

    outstanding list, cody. it's shocking how few of these common-sense things the republicans are doing for our country with their stranglehold on all three branches.

    the key to winning will be finding candidates who can articulate these as you have -- as ideas that have obvious appeal for average americans.

    tim, health care isn't a luxury, it's a right. it's not like one is "in the market" for a heart bypass. the hospital knows a patient needs it, and if he doesn't accept the hospital's price, the patient dies. the "negotiation" aspect of hsa's is deeply flawed. if you can think of a more realistic small-government way to stop medical price-gouging, i'm all ears, but i haven't heard one yet.

  • Brian (unverified)

    Not a bad list but not standing up for universal health care is a mistake. We'll never get the price down until everyone is in. And we reduce the amount of health care money spent on profits, marketing, beauracracy, taxes, CEO salaries, overpriced drugs and excessive end of life treatments.

    Also, we need to promise that elections will be fair and that all votes will be counted.

  • Cindy M (unverified)

    Cody, I like your thoughts. Brian, you're right about health care, we need it available for all. And I'm tired of hearing about government needing to be small. That's a repub frame and no one ever has said why small government might be a plus. Effective government would be a plus. Oversight needs to be worked into the system to insure it is for the people, not just those who know how to use it for their own personal advantage. How about working to make it less vulnerable to corruption?

  • howard (unverified)

    "rework education from a k-12 model to a k-graduate degree model"

    Attention should be devoted to having more kids arrive at Kindergarten ready to learn. The greatest human development potential the U. S. has today is to see to it that as many children as possible are afforded age-appropriate opportunities to learn and develop in ages 3-10 when their brains are twice as active as adults' and the optimum expansion of brain capacity is taking place.

    As Admiral Rickover said in a magazine interview years ago: "A democratic education is one in which the starting line, not graduation day, finds all students abreast."

  • Brian (unverified)


    I know this is sort of off the subject but I'm tired of progressives always claiming state controlled, compulsory schooling is a good thing.

    I am all for each and every human being rising to their greatest potential but that is not the goal of government run schooling. Never was and never will be. The goal of the schools is to create passive little workers who aren't too smart to demand changes in the system.

    Our system of work, life and family has evolved around the school but we need a different model. I find it bizarre that when parents turn their kids over to the government for daily indoctrination and are surprised when many can't read after thousands of hours of education.

    I really recommend reading something by John Taylor Gatto www.johntaylorgatto.com

  • lw (unverified)

    I can't find anything in the US Constitution that stipulates that health care is a right.

  • (Show?)

    Great idea; great start on a list. I'd add to the Working Families point that we must close the Mommy Gap in honor of the 26 million American women with children under 18 who work outside the home.

    From The Nation:

    "Mothers are 44 percent less likely to be hired than nonmothers who have the same résumé, experience and qualifications; and mothers are offered significantly lower starting pay. ... [Cornell University] study participants offered nonmothers an average of $11,000 more than equally qualified mothers for the same high-salaried job."

    I'm the mom of a 3-year-old and am the sole breadwinner for the two of us. I was told in an interview with a progressive Oregon organization that they really liked me, I was the perfect candidate, yadda yadda. But they said more than once in a series of interviews I had with them that the person leaving this position was also a mom and they "didn't want to make the same mistake twice." They dragged their feet for so long (5 weeks) while keeping me on the hook that I accepted a position somewhere else. This rejection from a job I was well positioned for was devastating and scary, and I tossed and turned at night picturing myself staying unemployed, and my daughter and I living under the Morrison Bridge. It sounds melodramatic now, but the things you think about at 4 am when you have a tiny mouth to feed ...

  • (Show?)

    The Nation article on the Mommy Gap that's mentioned in the previous post is available here.

  • Val (unverified)

    Apologies in advance for the long post, it is an important issue. If you don’t have the time or attention span to read the whole post, skip to links at the bottom.

    Actually, I have something more general than either TJ or LT said (dang, I wish I had some cool initials right now). When Grover Norquist presented the Republican contract with America to Republican politicians, he had the political collateral to move his agenda forward. The Republican party invested in their infrastructure and worked to build up their base with the extreme right over a long period of time. When Norquist put forward his contract, he had the votes and the money to make sure that any politician that didn’t sign on would be defeated.

    For the longest time Democrats have been paralyzed because we are stuck arguing on the sidelines about who has the most important issue while Republican’s take the ball down the field. The fact of the matter is that the R’s have dropped the ball and we are stuck on the sidelines discussing what the contract for America ought to look like. Folks, the Democratic Party is the party where hard work is rewarded and generosity is valued, we need to stop talking about the subtle nuances on the direction of the party, pick up the dang ball and take it down the field. The R’s have no defense, their position is indefensible. We as Democrats have to get out of our Lazyboys and knock on some doors to let our neighbors know that the solution to change is by organizing at the local level. It is what Grover Norquist did before they wrote their twisted contract; it is what we Democrats did before we got complacent.

    The bottom line is that a contract with America is a fine idea but we Democrats have been putting forward lots of fine ideas without winning; what is really needed is old fashion grassroots organizing. It is like farming, you can’t harvest a crop without first planting a seed and tending the field and we can’t be putting forward contracts and demands without first doing the work to build up our base. Howard Dean, the DNC and the DPO are working with the Oregon County parties to institute the Neighbor to Neighbor program where we can truly build capacity on voter at a time. In Lane County we have our membership program where we are building capacity and funding our efforts with $20 memberships (you shouldn’t be able to buy your way into being a better Democrat). Lane County is 50% of the solution to taking back the Oregon House as we have 2 of the 4 seats needed to tip the balance of power and we are well on our way. Along with those two races we are also fighting attacks heavily funded attacks from the extreme right on two of our incumbents Sen. Vicki Walker and Rep. Arnie Roblan who have both fought the good fight for Democrats in our state.

    For you people who are starting to feel badly that you don’t live in Lane County, take heart because there are other key races. For instance, I was really impressed by Marion County Senate Candidate Paul Evans at the State Convention, not only did he give a fantastic speech but he handled the platform breakout session on foreign policy which included both the issues of Iraq and Immigration so well that EVERYONE in the room came out feeling that the end result was good. Honestly, at a time when Bush is polling at 29% we have the opportunity to build our base and take on Republican incumbents. Paul Evans is just the right type of candidate to win. Of course, we should not forget Rob Brading who is taking on Karen Minnis and also Brian Clem who could be the fourth and final seat in taking back the Oregon House. At the State Convention there was some very serious discussion about who was the most “Oregonian” between Brian Clem and Chris Edwards but as Chris’s family came to Oregon in 1815, I think this can be counted as another Lane County win. Last but not lease we should remember Carol Voisin who is taking on Greg Walden in the 2nd Congressional district, she deserves our support.

    I understand that there are some people who don’t have the time to get involved or who live in neighborhoods that are full of active Democrats and aren’t sure where to put their energy or funds. For you people I have included the websites of the afor mentioned candidates and also the DPLC, because you do not have to live in Lane County to be a card carrying member of the DPLC.

    All the best Val Chairperson Democratic Party of Lane County www.dplc.org

    http://www.chrisedwardsfororegon.com http://www.jeancowan.com http://www.vickiwalker.com http://www.arniefororegon.com http://www.paulevans2006.com http://www.robbrading.com http://www.brianclem.com http://www.voisinforcongress.com

  • THartill (unverified)

    Big goals with lots of spending so the big question is "How do we pay for it"?

    By cutting other programs or raising taxes. Which is the way to go?

  • Bert Lowry (unverified)

    How do we pay for it? That's a good question.

    Looking at the list, I see two proposals that save money: the Fiscal Responsilibility Act and the Accountable Government Act. If those are coupled with sensible tax-reform, we have the money to make a difference.

    If we rein in "earmarked" appropriations -- you know, pork -- then we'd have more money. If we made the billionaires pay their fair share of taxes, we'd have more money. If we made the mega-corporations pay their fair share of taxes, we'd have more money. If we help small businesses get off the ground, we'd have more money. If we help the poor and underemployed become productive and self-sufficient, we'd have more money.

    Under Clinton we had an embarrassingly large budget surplus. For the last 5 years, we've given that surplus to the richest Americans -- I guess we thought they needed some help staying rich. We can use that surplus to pay for Cody's proposal.

  • BOHICA (unverified)

    How do we pay for it? Department of Defense, 2006 Discretionary Budget Authority: $419.3 billion. (Increase from 2005: 5 percent) Good place to start. Defense spending in fiscal 2006 is 41 percent above fiscal 2001.

    This does not include the $4.5 BILLION PER MONTH the war in Iraq is costing.

    Well, come on Wall Street, don't move slow, Why man, this is war au-go-go. There's plenty good money to be made By supplying the Army with the tools of the trade, Just hope and pray that if they drop the bomb, They drop it on old Saddam.

    June 9, 2006, 11:43AM Halliburton Shares Rise

    © 2006 The Associated Press

    NEW YORK — Shares of Halliburton Co. gained ground Friday, after an analyst said the construction, engineering and oilfield services company's "bold" financial goals for the next several years are "largely achievable."

    The Houston-based company's shares rose 80 cents to $72.89 in afternoon trading on the New York Stock Exchange. Halliburton shares have traded between $43.15 and $83.97 over the past 52 weeks.

    "bold" financial goals = just keep on killing more people while we rake in the dough.

    Come you masters of war You that build all the guns You that build the death planes You that build the big bombs You that hide behind walls You that hide behind desks I just want you to know I can see through your masks

    "Have I told you how much I hate these people" -Mike Malloy

    There's a fine line between war and murder and these people crossed it a long time ago.

  • (Show?)

    I'd add that, in addition to all the great ideas (i.e. immigration, early education, etc.) mentioned in the comments, we should definitely advocate a ban on torture, such as the one promoted today by a group of religious leaders.

  • askquestions1st (unverified)

    Cody -

    It's nice to read something that concisely articulates values and a message on Blue Oregon. The one comment I would have about fixing the health care problem is that the Democrats should simply run on the platform they will remove the age limits in the Medicare statutes. And allow the government to use it's even increased purchasing power to negotiate good drug prices.

    With those two simple steps, everyone is in a single-payer program they already are paying a payroll deduction to support. And with that emotional buy-in, and shifting some portion of employer-paid benefits into the payroll deduction away from the private insurance providers, we would be well on the way to solving the problem. We can then focus on improving Medicare rather than fighting over if and how healthcare will be provided for all.

    One other thing though you may not like: Dems are going to have to grow some teeth and claws to fight if we want to win elections to defend the values in your essay.

  • Bob Reinhardt (unverified)

    Two notes:

    1) Serious Note. Isn't the national party working on something like this already? The San Fran Chronicle had an article about this yesterday: Democrats to roll out action plan; program on domestic issues part of strategy to retake House. Are we too late to add our voice to this discussion? Have "party leaders" already decided what Dems should and should not be focused on?

    2) Note of Levity. The NPR show Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me this weekend had a bit on this (which is how I found out about it). Had a little sting to it: listen to the audio clip.

  • Bob Reinhardt (unverified)

    Oops: Here's a better link to the Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me page. The clip is "Panel Round Two."

  • jami (unverified)

    lw, perhaps we need a congress that amends the constitution to help people rather than hurt them, then.

    kick-ass mom, i hear ya on the kids thing. i work in a competitive work-'til-midnight field, and the prejudice against mothers (but not fathers of course) is not far below the surface, to the point that intelligent, responsible, hard-working women are afraid to have kids and lose their jobs for good.

  • Ben Hubbird (unverified)

    I'm with BOHICA. Democrats seriously need to reposition themselves on defense.

    The National Priorities Project has some great tools for calculating the relative cost of the least neccessary (or indeed, most harmful) military spending items -- nuclear weapons, ballistic missile defense, and the Iraq war.

    For example, people in Oregon will pay 2.6 billion dollars for the war in Iraq. With that money we could have provided health care for every kid in the state (actually, for 1.3 million kids -- more than live in Oregon.)

    We are also in the midst of the largest military build-up since the second world war, and it is lining the pockets of Bush's cronies. Private military contractors in Texas got $9 billion in 2001 and more than $21 billion last year. That's roughly a thousand dollars per person. Oregon, by comparison, recieves about 50 cents per person in military contracts. Less than 50% of the federal money that comes into the state.

    How can we counter the inevitable "soft on defense" or even outright "friend of the terrorists" attacks by Republicans? I think we reframe this as an economic and moral issue, NOT a national security issue. And most importantly, we don't back down. If we fight hard for responsible spending priorities, that will resonate with suburban/exurban America, despite the Republican spin. They will see us fighting for a new elementary school in their neighborhood and the Republicans fighting for war profiteers and pork barrel spending.

  • Harold Cade (unverified)

    liberals/progressives/democrats? Liberal/progressives and Democrat are not synonyms. Since the early 90s Labour in Britain and the Dems here have decided that winning is job #1. It is almost universally accepted that if you have even a few hard and fast principles you make yourself a sitting duck and are unelectable. Blair even had the bedrock "Chapter 4" of the social charter that used to appear on the back of their membership cards removed.

    A progressive stands for certain principles and is open to the most practical way to implement them. If that means voting for a given Republican, we'd do it. A Democrat has to vote for the Democrat because winning is job #1. There is a big difference and, personally, I'm offended by the equation.

    Politics is flawed by definition. As long as it is about power people will seek office to wield power. People that like power. People that were put down as a child and want to lord it over someone. If you want decisions based on facts and the greater good, government will have to get very boring and efficient, something like a Eurpean model. But Americans think that sucks. People do get the government they deserve as, I believe, Jefferson said. Ultimately it's about people telling lies to benefit themselves. How do you sell not doing it that way to people that live their lives that way?

    It's not about positions, it's about how we got to the current positions. If you want things to be different, then tell me, exactly what would you do different, as a matter of procedure? Everyone wants different results from applying the same methods. This was the blog whose participants took the position a few months back that money in politics was a necessary evil. I'm sorry, but I can't see that the Democrats think any differently than the folks in power. They just wish it were they. "The ends justify the means" has become a cultural trueism. A progressive would never subscribe to that.

  • Karl (unverified)

    Sure Harold,

    While you keep being "progressive" and holding yourself aloof, you can also continute to enjoy a Congress that does nothing to protect civil liberties, that manages to bankrupt the nation's future, and continues to fight a war that creates more enemies for the US.

  • Harold Cade (unverified)

    What's aloof about the position? I just have reservations about the extent to which the Congress' position doesn't reflect the will of the Amerikan people. Sure it might be regressive, immoral and downright stupid, but imposing progressive ideas when the populace isn't ready has never worked. Look at FDR's programs. Many are respected, particularly among those that use them. But can you honestly say that the very people that depend and support, say Social Security, hold the values that created it?

    But see, I was right. You (and I presume you are a Dem) do hold that kind of progressive position in contempt. I agree though that one should do something about the current situation or get out of the way. I've been embassy shopping for somewhere where I can make some kind of positive contribution. Sure ain't here.

  • Karl (unverified)


    You are absolutely wrong. I am not a registered Democrat. In fact I have voted for Republican candidates in the past when the candidates have espoused programs and beliefs with which I identify and believe.

    Politics are flawed. Always. Unless your are a totalitarian or theocratic zealot, it's about making compromises. The foundation of the US government, the Constitution, was in itself a series of compromises.

    Parliamentary democracies often have to form coalition governments unless one party wins a clear majority. Isn't that about compromise as well?

    Social Security was attacked when FDR proposed it. But who but a small number of politicians would vote to get rid of it? Bush couldn't even make headway in that respect. And originally, Social Security was meant by FDR to be a "safety net", not the current model of being the primary source of retirement income for a large number of Americans.

    So where are you going to go?

  • dusty (unverified)

    cody, many of your proposals look like strong restatements of recent new clips from the past two years, though your cut-and-paste job is admirable.
    i wonder if your revised national security act (don't forget that it was truman's national security act that gave us the nsa and built up the military industrial complex that eisenhower criticized) isn't too vague on just what kind of robust, muscular, internationalist foreign policy democrats should espouse. there are jihadists out there, so how does the democratic party hope to stop them? how will the democrats deal with rogue states, dictatorships, and states in civil war, which are prime breeding grounds for terrorists? also, while i note your call for broad outlines is as important as developing the concrete proposals, i wonder just what the democratic platform on iraq should be (clinton's stay the course or murtha's pull out now?). are we to heed powell's broke-it-fix-it reasoning and go it alone, or develop an international coalition through nato or the u.n. (and would they have us, and do they have backbones?)? also, i noticed that you didn't mention an immigration policy. perhaps you could call it the american dream act, and grant citizenship to working immigrants so that they can pay taxes, vote, and have a say in the political economy they help to support.


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