Normative Narratives

The Democratic Party: Areas of Potential Compromise


Jump to an Area of Potential Compromise:

Infrastructure Spending


Early Child Education

Paid Family Leave

Lower Corporate Tax Rates

Lower Effective Tax Rates for the Poor

Expanded Broadband Access

Class Based Affirmative Action

Criminal Justice Reform

There is a lot of anger coming from the political left in America, much of it justified. Trump the President has been just as divisive as Trump the candidate. Many of those who after the election said “give Trump a chance” are probably questioning that sentiment. Every word and policy that has come out of the White House since Trump’s inauguration has reeked of incompetence and bluster.

What is a liberal, or even a sensible moderate, to do? What should they demand of their representatives in Congress? It is tempting to say that Democrats should act as the G.O.P. did towards Obama–with blind obstructionism. My question to this natural response is “to what end”? Where does it stop? It may help the Democrats retake the Senate in 2018, something I think the nation sorely needs to check the G.O.P. But then what? An eye on the 2020 Presidency? Is that really our best option as a nation–that nothing happens until 2021?

Call me naive if you like, but I still believe politics should be, and can be, a means to an end–strong policies that benefit the average American–and not just an end in itself. If there is an opportunity to enact positive changes in our nation, who cares which party “gets the credit”?

The question also remains whether the G.O.P. has any interest in working with the Democratic Party on any of these issues. The G.O.P. currently seems preoccupied with prematurely repealing the ACA and developing regressive tax policies. Trump’s first budget proposal does not address any of these issues, and in order to pay for his military buildup would cut funding to agencies which would ultimately carry out these policies.

But by picking its battles, the Democratic Party will have more political capital and public support when there is a core issue it really must fight for (see my other running list–The Democratic Party: Red-Line Issues).

Maybe a more tempered message of targeted obstructionism would backfire, extinguishing the fire that Trump’s election has lit under liberal activists. What the Democratic Party’s strategy should be going forward is certainly open to debate. My opinion is just that, an opinion–what I think is the best way forward.

Because it is my belief that it is in the best interests of both the Democratic Party and the American people for the Democratic Party to not be blindly obstructionist, I have decided to start a running list of areas of potential compromise. I will explain what the area of compromise is, why it is in the interests of each party to work together on it, and how the Democrats can push related legislation in a more progressive direction.

Update (7/1/17): It seems that many Democrats in Congress who have tried to work with Trump (moderates, those in swing states) have been spurned by both sides. Progressives rally against them as not being hard enough on Trump. Trump, for his part, comes down hard on anyone who opposes his agenda, Democrat or Republican. He does not understand how to govern, and therefore is unable to get anything significant done. Any hopes of a populist administration have been dashed–Trump has show his true colors.

This reality has been reflected on my two running lists. None of these areas of potential  compromise have progressed in any meaningful ways. Trump has, however, pursued every red-line issue for the Democratic Party.

Update (9/13/17): Trump, fresh off a deal with Congressional Democrats to extend the debt limit and secure FEMA relief for Hurricane Irma and Harvey survivors, seems like he may be more open to reaching across the isle to make deals. It is still too early to call this the “new Trump”, but there is some promise here.

For one, Trump is an ego-maniac; getting stuff done, looking good, and being liked are likely strong motivators for him. His is also not very ideological on most policy issues, so there are very few traditionally conservative red-lines he won’t cross. These traits mean he can be quite pragmatic if he wants to be (in fact, this is exactly what some people hoped for when he was elected–the populist, non-partisan, outsider-deal-maker). Lets see where this goes…


Area: Infrastructure Spending

Trump trumpeted infrastructure spending during his Presidential campaign as a means of creating blue collar jobs and increasing economic growth. In theory, this is an obvious area for cooperation. However, with policy, the devil is in the details…

Why Democrats like it: Creates jobs in the short-run, boosts economic productivity in the long-run. Certain types of infrastructure spending can bring people closer to economic opportunities and prevent future damage / disasters.

Why the G.O.P likes it: Creates jobs in the short-run, boosts economic productivity in the long-run. 

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: The “1 trillion dollar” proposal makes for good headlines, but how does Trump’s plan on getting to that number? Progressives want more government spending (which will generate more economic stimulus), conservatives want to rely more on tax credits (which costs the government less). Progressives also want funding for projects that will increase economic productivity, but are not necessarily the “revenue generating projects” (toll roads, bridges, etc.) that Trump’s proposals have favored.

The program also would be much more ambitious if it focused on a diverse array of infrastructure. For example new water pipes so more areas like Flint, Mi. do not crop up around the county and broadband internet access (see below), as well as traditional physical infrastructure.

Policy Developments: G.O.P. leadership seems aligned with Trump on the idea of using tax credits to finance mostly revenue generating projects. Leadership on both sides of the isle seem to be digging into their positions, meaning this obvious area of cooperation could end up becoming another protracted fight.

Trump’s first budget proposal does not address his infrastructure plan–his administration has stated a plan is forthcoming. However, the proposal reduces funding for already under-resourced agencies that would carry out improvements to non-revenue generating infrastructure projects.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said that the infrastructure initiative, to be announced sometime in 2017, would include “a strategic, targeted program of investment valued at $1 trillion over 10 years. The proposal will cover more than transportation infrastructure, it will include energy, water and potentially broadband and veterans hospitals as well.” While this statement is not a policy proposal and lacks many important details, the Trump administration at least paying lip service to non-resource generating infrastructure is a positive development.

Meanwhile, as part of the fallout from Trump’s defense of racist protesters in Chancellorsville, the President has scrapped plans to create an infrastructure advisory council.

Trump’s infrastructure plan was central to his overall economic growth agenda, and it is stalling. With every passing day it seems more and more like Trump just can’t get anything done.

Area: Apprenticeships

Vocational schooling has historically been look down on in America. Instead, students are funneled towards four year colleges after high school. College is a great option for many people, but it should be just that–an option. The “college-for-all” movement has led to ballooning tuition costs (as demand for schooling increases) and a huge student loan debt problem which has become a drag on the American economy.

A high school / community college and apprenticeship option should also exist for young adults about to enter the labor force.

Apprenticeships are making a comeback thanks in part to bipartisan support among lawmakers. In the last two years, Washington has allocated $265 million to spur programs. President Obama’s secretary of labor, Thomas E. Perez, a strong proponent, attempted to rebrand apprenticeships to appeal to educators and parents. During his tenure, the department established a partnership between registered community colleges and sponsors that allowed on-the-job-training to count as academic credit toward a degree.

“Apprenticeship is the other college, except without the debt,” said Mr. Perez, who had a goal of doubling the number by 2018. Advocates are hopeful that the trend will continue with new leadership in Washington, given President Trump’s familiarity with construction.

Obama’s Labor secretary Thomas Perez started such a program. Hopefully the next Labor Secretary continues Perez’s important work and scales up apprenticeship programs.

Why Democrats like it: By increasing wages, economic opportunity expands and in time social mobility increases, as worker’s begin to invest more in their children.

Why the GOP likes it: A prime area for a favorite tool of conservatives–Public Private Partnerships. Apprenticeships also have a blue-collar tinge, and should be very popular with conservative voters.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: To fulfill the academic element of apprenticeships, there should be less reliance on for-profit colleges and more reliance on community colleges.

Policy Developments: During “Workforce Development Week”, Trump touted vocational high schools and apprenticeships as an avenue for addressing the skills gap, reducing underemployment, and promoting social mobility (of course he did not use such eloquent wording).

These are all things I believe in. Unfortunately, Trump isn’t willing to put federal money where his mouth is:

“The White House said Trump’s push is aimed at training workers with specific skills for particular jobs that employers say they can’t fill at a time of historically low unemployment. However, the most recent budget for the federal government passed with about $90 million for apprenticeships, and Trump so far isn’t proposing to add more.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., said Trump’s “rhetoric doesn’t match the reality” of budget cuts he’s proposing that would reduce federal job training funding by 40 percent from $2.7 billion to $1.6 billion.”

Look, I get it. The G.O.P. is against government spending and loves to tout the power of markets and the private sector to address societal needs. And there is undoubtedly a role for the private sector to play in scaling-up apprenticeship programs. But a government program is needed to leverage more private resources in a public-private partnership (PPP).

Rhetoric alone will not move the needle on apprenticeships. The skills gap has been a concern for years now. If the private sector was going to act on its own on this, it would have done it already.

Instead of proposing to drastically increasing military spending, Trump should be focusing his efforts here. This should be an easy win for the “jobs president” and executive producer of “The Apprentice”.

Area: Improved Early Childhood Education

Ninety percent of voters, regardless of party affiliation, endorse quality early childhood education with expanded access and affordability for children from low- and middle-income backgrounds, according to a 2016 national poll by the First Five Years Fund. Early childhood education is a strong investment in our nation’s future, as cost-benefit estimates report societal savings of up to $13 for every dollar spent on quality early childhood programs.

As the new administration tackles the minefield of educational reform, we encourage them to consider spending in one area where public opinion and strong evidence converge. Let’s move quickly to endorse programs that start early (0-3), support parents, and are of the highest quality. We know what works.

Why Democrats like it: Promotes economic opportunity and increases social mobility.

Why the GOP likes it: Saves money by reducing future welfare and criminal justice spending.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: Expanded access to quality early education should come through spending for the poorest, not through tax deductions. Any program based on tax deductions will fail to reach the lowest income children whose parents fall below certain income / tax thresholds.

Policy Developments: 

Trump came back to the idea of federally funded early child education, one of his more progressive campaign promises, during his joint address to Congress.

However, his plan mainly benefits children of middle and upper-middle class families (single parents earning up to $250,000/yr or $500,000/yr for married couples), not those born into the poorest. Of course, as a family goes up the income ladder, they can more easily afford quality early child education on their own (or are more likely to have it provided by their job). So while still expensive (because it pays out to so many people), the proposed plan would have a muted impact on enrollment and therefore human development / social mobility.

Much work remains before this plan can be considered “progressive”–we’ll see if it ever gets there.

Area: Paid Family Leave

Polls show that the public is overwhelmingly in favor of paid family and medical leave. Support for the concept is bipartisan, with 83 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of Republicans in favor of this policy. Yet, the United States is the only advanced nation that does not have a paid leave policy at the national level.

Why Democrats like it: Low income parents would not have to choose between spending time with newborn babies and being able to afford life’s necessities. Scientific evidence (and common sense) suggests spending time with newborns is important for cognitive and social / emotional development, promoting equality of opportunity and social mobility.

Why the G.O.P. likes it: See above, this is a non-partisan issue as everyone has kids.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: The Trump administration has signaled its interest in doing more on this front, but some aspects of its preliminary proposal could be improved. For example, the Trump plan focuses on maternity rather than parental leave available for both parents. This could exacerbate gender bias in hiring and reinforce the stereotype that mothers should be the primary caregivers.

Policy Developments: Trump plugged paid parental leave in his joint address to Congress. While this does not constitute a policy proposal, it is a positive development on the front.

Area: Lowering Corporate Tax Rates

America has a very high corporate tax rate (39.1). However, because of loopholes and other tax rules, our effective corporate tax rate is much lower (27.1%).

This disparity puts smaller businesses at a big disadvantage. Companies are rewarded based on the accountants and lawyers they can hire, not just on their competitive and innovative edges.

Why Democrats like it: Puts small businesses on equal footing with large corporations. Lowers the overall corporate tax rate, making American businesses as a whole more competitive.

Why the G.O.P. likes it: Same reasons as above.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: While all businesses will support a lower corporate tax rate, these same interests will hire lobbyists to defend each and every loophole that Congress proposes to close to offset the lost revenue from said lower rate.

Failure to close enough loopholes while lowering the tax rate would be a giveaway to big business and blow a hole in the federal budget.

A related issue is repatriating trillions of dollars in corporate profits held abroad. These repatriated profits must be taxed at a reasonable rate coming back into the country. Furthermore, the policy must stipulate that some of the repatriated profits go towards hiring and business operations. Past repatriation efforts have failed in this regard, leading instead to stock buybacks.

Policy Developments: House Ways and Means Committee Chair Kevin Brady is set to meet with the Committee’s Democratic members to discuss a tax plan that both parties can support.

Perhaps the defeat of the AHCA and emerging resistance from retailers to the border adjustment tax has moved the G.O.P. towards the center on this issue (in order to avoid another embarrassing defeat)? Lets see where this goes.

Area: Lowering Effective Marginal Tax Rates for People Coming off Government Assistance Programs

Effective marginal tax rates for low income workers who are on the cusp of coming off government assistance programs are very high. This can cause a disincentive to work, and could explain some of the drop in prime-age labor force participation rates.

To remedy this problem, Congress could expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit (a Trump campaign proposal) in exchange for pairing back some assistance programs (particularly those targeting adults without dependents).

Why Democrats like it: By taking prime-age adults without dependents off assistance programs, said programs would come under attack less frequently, as they target the most deserving beneficiaries–children.

Why the G.O.P. likes it: Reduces the number of people receiving government assistance (“takers”), reducing government spending. Increased labor force participation.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: Expanding the EITC, higher minimum wages, create more potential jobs by creating government jobs.

Policy Developments: The federal hiring freeze makes it difficult to push this policy in a more progressive direction, as creating public sector jobs is currently off the table.

Cutting government assistance without implementing the complementary progressive policies discussed above would be irresponsible and increase poverty rates.

Area: Expanding Broadband Internet Access

(For more information, see this Brookings report on where gaps in Broadband coverage exist, and how to address them)

Why Democrats like it: Being disconnected has become an impediment to economic opportunity. Children need internet access to complete their schoolwork; adults need internet access to apply for jobs.

Why the GOP likes it: This would create jobs, similar to physical infrastructure. It would also benefit traditionally conservative rural communities.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: 

There are two issues here–affordability and access. Both should be addressed as part of an effort to expand broadband internet access.

For low income urban communities broadband internet exists, but it may be prohibitively expensive. Since cities have higher population density, there are also bandwidth issues to consider.

For low income rural populations, broadband internet may not even be an option. The infrastructure required to reach these areas can have high upfront costs. Low population density and low incomes means private companies may need government incentives to connect these areas.

Another question is what form should expanded broadband access take? Free public wifi may make more sense in urban areas–which could cost more in total dollars but have a lower per-person cost. Subsidized private access in homes may make more sense in rural areas. There are still many details to be worked out.

Policy Developments: The new FCC head Ajit Pai appears to be moving the U.S. in the opposite direction. He has suspended nine companies from providing discounted internet service to poor people through a program known as Lifeline.

The Democratic Party, for its part, has included expanded broadband internet access in their proposed infrastructure plan. However, Trump’s first proposed budget did not mention scaling up (and would likely cut) funding for rural broadband expansion.

Area: Affirmative Action Reform

Affirmative action programs ran through the government (public college admissions, government hiring) should be race-blind and socioeconomic based.

The current system stokes racial tension. Furthermore, it can also be ineffective, as schools can target wealthy minorities who have already escaped the legacy of past transgressions.

In my opinion, Affirmative Action should be about social mobility, rather than a form of reparations.

Why Democrats should support it like it: It will help Democrats get away from “identity politics“, recapturing some of the voters who swung the 2016 Presidential election.

Why the GOP likes it: Race based Affirmative Action has been a contentious issue for many lower income white conservatives. Those who have been “left behind” by the modern economy have not realized the benefits of greater wealth nor the leg-up of Affirmative Action. This factors into white resentment towards minorities.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: Making the policy based on economic status will still benefit minorities, as minorities in the aggregate are poorer than white people. It should also reduce racial tension.

Policy Developments: On the surface, progressives won with the Fisher v. University of Texas ruling. But did they really? Time for some introspection on this subject.

Area: Criminal Justice Reform

Although rates of drug use and selling are comparable across racial and ethnic lines, blacks and Latinos are far more likely to be criminalized for drug law violations than whites.

The “War on Drugs” disproportionately affects minorities. Starting with Eric Holder under the Obama administration, the country seemed to be moving in the right direction on criminal justice reform.

Why Democrats should support it like it: Injects an element of racial justice to a very racially biased criminal justice system. Promotes social mobility by keeping families together and people in the workforce as drug users get treatment.

Why the GOP likes it: The reasons above. Criminal justice reform can also save a lot of money.

How to push policy in a more progressive direction: Promote criminal justice reform at state level, where most people are incarcerated.

Policy Developments: Attorney General Jeff Sessions just passed a directive to undo recent progress on criminal justice reform, specifically related to mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent drug offenders.

This move has few backers, and could be undone by decisive legislation on the issue. But until that day, it is an uncalled for and regressive policy.


One thought on “The Democratic Party: Areas of Potential Compromise

  1. Pingback: Red Lines and Areas of Compromise for the Democratic Party | Normative Narratives

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