Update 392: Progressive Strategy Summit 2019
Domestic Econ. Policy Consensus Emerge
Last week, the Congressional Progressive Caucus Center and Progressive Caucus Action Fund hosted the Progressive Strategy Summit in Washington. The event brought together members of Congress, grassroots organizers, and policy and political strategists. Attended by over 500 people, the Summit reflected on progressive achievements so far this Congress and on policy priorities for 2020 and beyond.
The House Progressive Caucus (or CPC) has been steadily growing in membership and influence in recent years, now comprising over 40 percent of House Democrats and representing the largest and pre-eminent caucus in Congress. See below.
Today, we examine the key domestic economic policy issues covered in the Progressive Strategy Summit, takeaways from the discussions, and how they may inform the progressive economic policy agenda this cycle.
Good luck to the hometown team in game 7 of the World Series tonight!
* In the 114th Congress, the Tea Party caucus became inactive, with most of its members joining the Freedom Caucus and Liberty Caucus. 115th and 116th data counts participation in all three caucuses.
In the midst of 13 active worker strikes across the country, many of the plenary sessions focused on the future of the labor movement, both on the ground and in Congress.
Prominently featured were local speakers addressing efforts to chip away at at-will employment abuses and the Fight for $15/hr federal minimum wage, and to push for guaranteed paid family and medical leave.
A startling statistic during one breakout session: there were more union strikes and stoppages in 2018 than in any year since 1986. Given the current unemployment rate, this is quite remarkable, reminding us that there is more than one economy and labor market for Americans and that most workers are seeing conditions deteriorate despite aggregate statistics.
On the legislative front, the Summit focused attention on bills to give workers a greater voice on corporate boards, make it easier to organize, and ensure workers are paid a fair wage. Many of these bills are poised for House floor votes in coming months and congressional leaders at the summit were keen to see them passed this Congress:
- Reward Work Act
- PRO Act
- Restoring Overtime Pay Act
Tax reform is vast and fertile territory and conferees heard about “Ten Big Ideas” from Frank Clemente, Executive Director for Americans for Tax Fairness. Clemente laid out a plan to bring in more revenue in the most effective and progressive ways. He demonstrated that Americans are overwhelmingly in favor of progressive taxation. Some polls show that the 2017 GOP tax law is more unpopular than certain tax increases. Democrats can win the messaging war on this issue by pointing out the regressive distributional effects of the law as well as its effects on the debt and deficit.
Clemente argued that Democrats need to espouse a bold affirmative tax agenda, pointing to such ideas as:
- expansion of inheritance taxes
- a wealth tax
- carbon tax
- financial transaction tax
One long-standing tax policy goal of progressives has been to equalize treatment of earned income and capital gains. This would require legislative tax law changes to capital gains, qualified dividends, and the TCJA’s Section 199A (the now-infamous ‘pass-through’ deduction). A corporate AMT could help restore balance to revenues — the corporate contribution to the budget has slowly fallen from 30 to 10 percent in the last 50 years. Such reforms could raise $10 trillion over the next decade.
Beyond general calls to address economic inequality through tax increases and expanding the social safety net, special attention was paid to the issue of reigning in the predatory actions of private equity firms. Lisa Donner, Executive Director of Americans for Financial Reform, and Teria Moore-Berry, a former Toys ‘R Us employee now with United for Respect, spoke about their support for Sen. Warren’s bill, S. 2155, the Stop Wall Street Looting Act of 2019.
Toys ‘R Us, a once profitable and ubiquitous household name, was purchased in 2005 by a consortium of investors led by private equity firms like KKR Group and Bain Capital. The new owners drained Toys R’ Us of its resources and profit centers, loaded it up with debt, and left it for dead (i.e., bankruptcy). Higher-ups on Wall Street earned huge bonuses, while workers like Moore-Berry lost everything. Private equity firms continue to buy up and shutter newspapers, hospitals, and hotels, leaving workers and local economies to clean up after the party.
Housing advocates from across the country discussed the need for addressing the affordable housing crisis in America. It has become clear that there is large-scale housing investment needed to end the affordable housing shortage and put a dent in homelessness. Afua Atta-Mensah from Community Voices proposed the idea of a home guarantee, echoing Sen. Sander’s pledge of Housing for All in the presidential campaign. There was also some discussion of a CPC housing package to be introduced in the coming weeks.
Summit participants also reflected on progressive victories in the 116th Congress — none more so than the first bill introduced in the House this Congress, the For the People Act, H.R. 1. The democracy reform bill was the most comprehensive in American history, passing the House 234-193 this March. While there is no chance of it getting a vote in the Senate this Congress, members of the CPC expressed confidence in the chances of passages with unified Democratic control of government. Advocates are also focused on building upon other democracy reform efforts, and how to make sure they are fully funded, as it is clear how cross or intersectional democracy reform is now.
While much of the discussion at the Summit focused around the voting rights section of H.R. 1 and H.R. 4, the Voting Rights Advancement Act, ethics and campaign finance reform weren’t left out — many advocated the end of the Citizens United ruling. Others sought to address breaches of ethics rules by the Trump administration or new rules needed. CPC was understandably proud of the advancements that the House has already made and continues to make in democracy reform.
Overall, the through-line connecting all the topics covered during the Summit was political success in Congress and at the ballot box. The mantra: “don’t apologize for being progressive,” rang through clearly.
Progressives gained an impressive 22 seats in the House during the 2018 Midterm Election. The CPC now boasts 99 voting members in the lower chamber — over 40 percent of the total number of Democratic seats. Energy remains high among the progressive movement with many hoping to build on recent success. Domestic economic policy themes and priorities will continue to emerge and clarify as the cycle moves forward. Progressives are eager to give the lie to the “best economy ever” narrative of the Trump Administration — and to present an alternative, progressive vision.
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