Promises for America

By Joe Firestone

The polling since the conventions shows that Democrats are doing better than expected. President Obama now apparently has a clear lead over Mitt Romney. Democratic Party control of the Senate seems likely to survive this election year of many more Democratic rather than Republican Senate seats up for election. And, even in House races, it looks like the Democrats will pick up a number of seats; though whether they can pick up enough seats  to take back the House is still an unlikely prospect, and without the House President Obama’s second term is likely to be much like his last year and three-quarters, rather than his first two years.

 So, what ought to be done to ensure a Democratic victory in the House and perhaps even a no loss of seats Senate outcome? My view is that the Democrats need to make some strong promises to the voters, conditional on those voters returning the Democrats to majority control of both Houses of Congress. Here’s my list of promises Democratic candidates for office should make to voters to ensure a return to a majority in both Houses of Congress.

— I promise to vote No on any bill that will cut spending on Medicare, Social Security, or Medicaid during my term of office. I also promise to vote no on any procedural vote that would facilitate a vote to get such a bill out of any committee I serve on; or any procedural vote to facilitate a floor vote of any such bill. My promise includes any bill that would raise the age of eligibility for full Medicare benefits, or that would change the Social Security cost of living adjustment formula unless the change proposes increases to the COLA by taking into account the disproportionate Medical and pharmaceutical expenses seniors pay compared to people under the age of eligibility.

— I promise to vote Yes on any bill providing for $1000 per person revenue sharing payments from the Federal Government to the American States so that State and local employees who have lost their jobs since the onset of the present Wall Street-induced recession, may be hired back and State public services fully restored. I promise to vote Yes on any motion to report such a bill out of any committees I serve on, and I also promise to vote Yes on any procedural motion facilitating a floor vote on such legislation, and to vote NO on any motion blocking a floor vote on such legislation.

— I promise to vote Yes on any bill providing for a Federal Job Guarantee (JG) program, guaranteeing a job offer at a living wage with full fringe benefits to anyone who wants to work full time and is capable of performing the job. The jobs involved will defined by local community organizations and non-profit sector organizations in a variety of service sectors and will be comprised of work that creates valuable outcomes fulfilling the public purposes of the United States. I promise to vote Yes on any motion to report such a bill out of any committees I serve on, and I also promise to vote Yes on any procedural motion facilitating a floor vote on such legislation, and to vote NO on any motion blocking a floor vote on such legislation.

And for Senate candidates:

— I promise to vote No in January 2013 on any set of rules for organizing the Senate which provides for unlimited debate without or without rules for shutting off unlimited debate through cloture. In other words, I promise to vote No on any set of rules continuing the practice of the Senate filibuster. I make this promise because I realize that without the routine rule of the majority in matters of debate and procedure in the Senate, all the previous promises I’ve made would be empty promises because a majority of Democrats in the Senate would not be sufficient to keep the conditional promises I’ve made earlier.

This simple list of promises, conditional only on winning a majority in both Houses will most likely persuade the unemployed and the under-employed that when the Democratic Party says that it will be fighting to fix the economy to lower unemployment, that it means what it says about ending the unemployment problem. It will also persuade seniors that the Democratic Party isn’t planning to, and won’t sell them out in the next two years by making a “grand bargain” either after the election, or in the next Congressional term to cut the social safety net for the sake of bipartisanship. So, these promises should win for the Democrats two constituencies in this election which have been eluding them and the President: an undivided working class, which will, at least temporarily, come home to the Democratic Party; and the senior demographic, a remaining bastion of Republican support that is ripe for the taking due to Republican attacks on SS, Medicare, and Medicaid.

Democrats, including the President, talk about a long- and even medium-term deficit and debt reduction problem, that doesn’t exist. For better or worse, that is seen as code for selling out the safety net, and refusing to deficit spend to create jobs or extend unemployment benefits and food stamps to those who need them. People now mistrust Democrats on safety net and employment issues, even though they still trust them more than Romney/Ryan and Republican candidates generally.

In order to remove mistrust and to swing seniors and working people strongly enough into the Democratic camp to regain control of Congress, I urge Democrats to make and keep these promises: direct, unequivocal commitments with no qualifications saying essentially “we know that we are talking about your bread and butter with these promises, and under no conditions will we vote to take away any of your bread and butter and give more to the rich! This we solemnly promise! Hold us to it in 2014!

17 responses to “Promises for America

  1. The Democrats would rather lose than not serve their corporate masters. They fell on their swords in 1994 after NAFTA, in 2000 after Clinton’s rightward shift in the second term, again in 2010 after the Big Insurer and Pharma Corporate Welfare Act of 2010.

    Obama has not spent the past three years doubling down on Bush II’s agenda for nothing. Even when these people get to this level and lose they still win. If the Dems could not make a go of it commanding historic majorities in both houses of Congress and the White House, it is clear that it just ain’t gonna happen with the Democrats.

    At all levels of government the word is out that the job of elected officials is to deliver their constituencies’ resources to the rent seekers. Absent a mass movement, neither of these parties nor the bureaucracy are going to allow public opinion and public policy to meet.

  2. Ditto, Marco’s comments. His perspective straightforwardly defines what American politics has devolved into. The promises articulated by Firestone, while making sense to any rational thinking American, are too often diametrically opposed to the business interests of the political marionettes that yank the strings of all branches of government. If a candidate for any congressional office were to take a “Grover” like pledge to uphold those promises, the checkbooks that puke forth the funding they desperately need to get elected or re-elected would slam shut so loud and fast the echo would travel for miles. Not gonna happen, Mergatroid…

  3. Hi Marcos, nice to see you here. I agree with you. But, there are INDIVIDUALS running for office among the Dems who have a good chance to lose and who might well win if they make the commitments I’ve outlined. They didn’t decide to go through the pain of a campaign in order to lose.

    Let’s say 10 of them make the promises I’ve listed. Then I think other Democrats will be asked, why don’t you make and keep these promises. Some will, because they have political cover from the first 10. Then there are “progressives” in safe seat. Can they really have 20 – 30 others making hard line progressive commitments and refuse themselves to do so? I’m not sure.

    What happens if 100 Democratic candidates make these promises and are elected? Then we get a surprise result in the election, Democrats get back the House and 100 of them have made hard commitments that people will try to hold them too and that forbid them to do a grand bargain. Then Obama will have lost 100 votes he can normally count on. You also have the tea partiers from Republican safe districts who will have commitments never to raise taxes and some of whose constituents won’t appreciate cuts to Medicare and SS either.

    I think that if we have this situation, then we are much more likely to get a a grand bargain voted down than not. At this point, that’s what I want to defeat. People who think the way I do obviously need 4 more years, at least, to break the grip of the plutocracy on the throat of America. Meanwhile, I’d like them to be able to as little damage as possible, and that means as few right-of-center compromises as we can get, in the short run.

    • Hi, Joe, thanks for your reply.

      The only way for public opinion to become public policy when public opinion clashes with corporate imperative is for the public to organize independently to give power no other choice. It is not going to happen via the ballot box.

      I’ve seen in miniature the techniques that corporate power uses to rule here at the local level in San Francisco. Even when community folks manage to beat corporate candidates, the system’s immune response–hysterically pro business press, coopted and corrupted unions and nonprofits and the local patronage hack parade–work together to coopt or marginalize any independent politics. The same elements come into play at the national level, with slightly different appearances but serving the same function.

      If one were to organize, one would find that one could not get a clear shot at power until one blew through those who claim to be one’s political allies. This is the perfect dictatorship, the PRI in Mexico had nothing on this.

      This will hold until circumstances outside approach those inside prisons.

      • God, Marcos. I hope I’m right and your not. I suggest we have to act as if I’m correct, because I may be and the alternative is just too terrible to contemplate.

        • The alternative of a democratic polity where citizens come together face to face to discuss and determine their democratic aspirations should only be a terrible alternative for those who leverage faults in the existing rigged and corrupt system to achieve more political and economic power then they otherwise would on the merits.

          But it is clear that the system has adapted an immune response to all external structures that had served as counterweight to the rent seekers. Either we acknowledge this and adapt ourselves in turn, or we face extinction.

          This is now a power game, not a debating society. The enlightenment has been repealed, we are in a post-post modern era of ersatz political dys-course where the twain of reference and referent need not ever meet, prevarication piles upon mendacity, and there is no continuity from statement to statement. We cannot reason ourselves out of this one and not for lack of effort.

          The fact that the regime cracked down on OWS, an effort to do this kind of mass organizing and mobilizing, last year with a ferocity not seen used against popular movements since 1968 indicates that such modes of organizing are deemed a threat by the regime. When your opponent reacts strongly to your plays, then you know that you’re on the right track. When your opponent ignores your plays, then you’re doing nothing.

          I wish we could use our magnificent brains to reason our way out of this with cogent arguments about the merits of our positions because MMT offers up some game changing ideas. But that does not work anymore and we have to use our magnificent brains to figure out what is going to work and start doing it–stat–because the patient is losing blood and is flat lining.

          In short: if showing up with good ideas were sufficient, the world would be a very different place by now. Structural political change takes much more than that, it takes organizing and raising political power.

  4. I can’t agree on the JG; the population has been cheated by the counterfeiting cartel, the banking system; they deserve restitution, not make-work. Whoever heard of making victims work for their restitution?

    Of course the Federal Government should spend generously on infrastructure but paying people to waste their time is degrading and demoralizing.

    But what would be good for the population’s work ethic is a return to family farms which the banks also stole. Corporate farms should probably be nationalized and the land redistributed.

    • Hi F. Beard, Your view of the what the Job Guarantee program and the MMT view are very different. There would be no make work. Please see the JG Posts in Randy’s MM Primer and the various references he gives especially the ones to Pavlina’s work. See also this piece of mine for more references, and see here for discussion.

      • Nope. You’re blaming the victims and I’ll have none of that.

        The counterfeiting cartel has cheated both debtors and non-debtors and has dis-employed workers with their own stolen purchasing power.

        The solution therefore AT A MINIMUM must abolish the counterfeiting cartel (government privileges for banking) and provide restitution. More drastic measures such as nationalizing large corporations and redistributing their common stock might also be necessary if wealth inequality did not rectify itself quickly enough.

        I’ll stick with Steve Keen’s solution, thank you, though I would be a bit more radical than he. It is also much more viable politically speaking. Who turned down G.W. Bush’s “stimulus checks”?

        • Nope. I’m not blaming the victim at all. Nor do I disagree about the preferred solution to the developing plutocracy we see. All I’m saying is that the promises I laid out for this election are ones that we may be able to get some candidates to agree to. But we will never get any candidates running today to run on this:

          “The solution therefore AT A MINIMUM must abolish the counterfeiting cartel (government privileges for banking) and provide restitution.”

          Much less this:

          “More drastic measures such as nationalizing large corporations and redistributing their common stock might also be necessary if wealth inequality did not rectify itself quickly enough.”

          We won’t get agreement from anybody on these things because anyone who signs to them will not be able to bring people to an understanding of why they’re necessary in the remaining 45 days, and also because while explaining these positions they will be ferociously attacked for being anti-capitalist and anti-American.

          My promises, on the other hand, are promises that can be easily defended. Even the one that’s furthest out there, the JG, can be easily defended as a pragmatic adjustment to the 28 million dis-employed to who would like to have full time jobs at a living wage with full fringe benefits. Candidates can point out that private business and the market alone, as well as the ARRA stimulus program have failed to provide a solution to the dis-employment problem for 4 years now, and that the dis-employed can wait no longer and should have to. Then the candidate can explain that the JG program doesn’t compete with private sector business since businesses can always hire from the JG program as soon as feel the need to create new jobs. So, therefore, the JG program always leaves the question of whether someone will be employed by it or the private sector, up to the private sector and that all the JG is doing is to provide jobs for those who want to work full time who cannot find private sector jobs at better wages and fringe benefits.

          Btw, stimulus checks aren’t better than the JG because they can easily be attacked as “welfare,” that is unearned, and therefore will interfere with the goal of getting the groups that the Republicans still have some hold over to support the Democratic candidates. On the other hand, jobs for those who want them can’t be attacked as welfare and SS, Medicare, and Medicaid aren’t considered welfare by the groups the candidates will be targeting. On the contrary, the appeal to these groups will be that they have a right to these hard-won programs in the social safety net that have existed for a very long time and that the Republicans are trying to take away the right of people to them.

          The broader and more re-distributive program that you and I both prefer is not something we can possibly put over in the next 45 days. But if we can get a heavily Democratic Congress again, then we can begin to pressure very heavily for it and also for passing Medicare for All in the coming two years, and for reforming the banking system in the way we’d like to see.

        • Sorry, I screwed up the formatting on my reply to you and can’t easily edit it. Hope it’s clear enough.

    • This disagreement over government support programs as “make-work” or “restitution,” is a disagreement which underlie populism. Assumed was/is although the “free market system” is perfect, it can be disrupted. When this occurs, individuals in need should be compensated. However, accepting free will, individuals who are irresponsible should not be compensated. Never provided is a criterion for determining the deserving from the undeserving. This lack of a criterion seems manifest in discussion on this site concerning this issue. To both sides, provide an incontestable criterion. If unable, then abandon the dispute, and accept deontological duty to one another as human beings.

  5. Btw, stimulus checks aren’t better than the JG because they can easily be attacked as “welfare,” that is unearned, Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

    No, they are restitution for theft. Strangely, though the MMT folks admit that “loans create deposits” they refuse to see that this is a form of counterfeiting that cheats both debtors and non-debtors.

    Also, remember it was G.W. Bush who first sent out “stimulus checks.” I don’t recall much objection to that from conservatives and libertarians. How much less can they object to just restitution?

    What libertarians and conservatives object to is an increase in the size and power of government, not government money. Notice how the Tea Party defended Social Security and Medicare?

    Be bold! You think you are asking for little but in fact you are asking for too much.

    • Sorry, I just don’t see it that way.If I’m asking for too much, then I am being bold. But also, and more importantly, we’ll never get enough people to back the idea of checks as just restitution in the next 45 days. We’d just be wasting our time because people in tight races won’t lock them up by calling for just restitution. They would lock them up if they were willing to take the defensive position I’ve outlined and add to that breaking the filibuster and providing the JG to get rid of UE.

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  7. A relative and I had a conversation several days ago, and discovered, much to our surprise, we had independently arrived at similar conclusions. Democrats have moved ahead in the polls because the public is being as rational as they can be within the limits of the system. Ever since the crash of 2008, consistently in polls jobs have been the number one policy issue for the public, ahead by a large percentage of whatever was number two.

    Both Republicans and Democrats adhering to the same neoclassical economic program, there is no hope for a jobs program from either. To what the public is driven, then, is that party which is least likely to not assist them. Being so, decided is the Democrats, most especially driven home by Romney’s 47% comment. What my family member and I have concluded from all this is not that Obama and the Democrats will win, that is the short run effect.

    More importantly, the tenuous character of the Republican party, an unhappy marriage of the tea party social reactionaries and wealthy business interests, will begin to break apart. Last February when Romney moved ahead of his tea party competitors in the Republican primaries, all attacked him because representing “big business.” At the same time, big business interests tend not to be religionists, anti-abortionists, anti-women, etc., etc. With the general public already revealing its hostility to tea party social programs, and, voting for the Democrats, their hostility to neo-classical economic policies not emphasizing jobs, the Republican party can be expected to degenerate into civil war.

    As for the Democrats, their grudging support by the public as the lesser of two evils will introduce a similar, if perhaps less acrimonious civil war. Confronted will be a public which has no respect for or trust in them. A similar civil war will break out among Democrats. Smelling the rise of the tea party, Bill Clinton moved to the right to invite the business wing of the Republican Party, and their money, into the Democratic Party. Barack Obama has continued this process. Confronting a public openly hostile to this policy–look at Rahm Emmanuel’s failure to gain public support in the teachers’ strike–without any support among either constituent part for tea party social programs, a long moribund left will be energized to attack the monied interests. With these latter in a defensive position because of the manifest hostility toward them by the public, a blundering about of the Democrats can be expected, at least throwing a bone or two to the public to keep them at bay.

    Still missing in all of this is a substitute economic policy which can be utilized to reshape political policy. Yes, here a policy, there a policy, but nothing at this crucial point of the exhaustion of long held economic policy presents a policy with consensus support. As a discipline, economics has failed. Thus, both parties can be expected to begin a process of internal war, with no clear indication of their resolution. Increased, however, is the likelihood of employment policies by the government. This is not the EU where a distant non-national bureaucracy can impose misery upon a public with indifference. This is still a sort of democracy where a miserable public can “throw the bums out.”