What Next?

WHAT NEXT?….Over at RBC, Steven Teles lays out some advice for the new Democratic Congress, most of which seems pretty sound to me. Go ahead and read it and then come back. My comments on each of his recommendations are below.

  • Go slow on oversight. I guess I’d put it this way: I don’t think Dems need to go nuts on hearings. They just need to return Congress to its normal level of oversight. Compared to the past six years, that will be plenty.

  • Lobbying reform. Republicans have been very good over the past couple of decades at promoting policies that hurt Democrats structurally, either by reducing their money-raising ability or reducing the number of people who can vote for them. Examples include tort reform, union bashing, voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and the K Street Project.

    In the same vein, lobbying reform is a no-brainer for Democrats, a place where good policy is also good politics. Unfortunately, I fear that Dems will go soft on this because they’ve become so dependent on corporate funding in recent years, but if they do they’ll be wasting a golden opportunity. Anytime you have a chance to enact something that’s (a) popular, (b) good policy, and (c) hurts the other party structurally more than it hurts you, you should swing for the fences. They won’t have a second chance on this.

  • Comprehensive immigration reform. Yes. Again, this is both good politics and good policy. Dems get to stick to their principles, do the right thing, and get brownie points for working with the president in a bipartisan way. The press loves bipartisanship.

  • Medicare reform and an increase in the minimum wage. More no-brainers. Not only are these popular, but they’re both part of the platform the Dems ran on.

  • Pass the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. Agreed. Heather Hurlburt has some additional detail on this, all of which makes sense (though some is fairly long-term).

  • Social Security reform without private accounts. I don’t really agree with Steven about the importance of this, but he argues that it would be good politics regardless: if we pass some kind of bipartisan blue-ribbon plan, it takes Social Security off the table forever, and that will be helpful in the future. I’m halfway convinced by this, though I still don’t think I’d make it a high priority.

  • Follow the Baker Commission’s lead on Iraq. I’ll wait and see on this. However, I dissent pretty strongly from Steven’s advice to avoid blaming Republicans for the war over the next few months. (He thinks we should wait a year or so until investigations have ramped up.) That’s highminded, but the conservative movement is already gearing up a major effort to blame our loss in Iraq on Democrats and the liberal media, and they have a good chance of finding a ready audience for this claptrap if we don’t fight it constantly. We need to find a way out of Iraq, but we also need to make it crystal clear every step of the way that we’re cleaning up a Republican mess.

  • No long bombs on domestic policy. Sure, agreed. The obvious “long bomb” is some kind of universal healthcare, but it’s plainly obvious that right now there’s neither the public nor the political support necessary to pass it. This needs a lot more spadework.

What else? I’ll second Ezra’s call for passage of the Employee Free Choice Act. Strengthening private sector unions is good policy, since it would give workers more bargaining power and make a bit of progress toward reinvigorating middle class incomes. That’s good for the economy. At the same time, it’s also structurally useful for Democrats since unions provide both money and manpower for liberal causes. Like lobbying reform, it’s good policy and good politics.

I’d love to add some serious environmental legislation to this list: raising CAFE standards, maybe a carbon tax of some kind, passing a new and more enforceable version of new source review. Unfortunately, for various reasons, none of these seem likely to garner a lot of attention. But at least Barbara Boxer will be replacing James “Global Warming Is a Hoax” Inhofe as chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. That’s something.