Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., June 4, 5 or 6
Ambitious “road atlases” point to a new direction for policymakers, but the challenge will be that Congress may be behind the wheel while corporations and millionaire campaign contributors are the powerful back-seat drivers.
Several such routes have emerged from progressives in the last month, with most attention paid to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s 13-point agenda, which he hopes will be for Democrats what Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America was for Republicans in 1994. De Blasio’s “Progressive Agenda to Combat Income Inequality” calls for labor-law reform, tax fairness, universal pre-Kindergarten programs, paid family leave, a $15 minimum wage, letting student debt be refinanced, immigration reform, and rejecting trade deals that give corporations more power than representative government while sacrificing jobs, workers’ rights and environmental protections.
However, also worth noting is a lively new book by Salvatore Babones, an Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) fellow: “Sixteen for ’16.”
OK, the number 16 may conjure a bit of hope – and dread. It’s reminiscent of the rock ’n’ roll classic “Sweet Little 16” and its ebullient idealism that anything’s possible. But it’s also a reminder of “16 Tons,” the Merle Travis ballad popularized by Tennessee Ernie Ford about the never-ending toil many workers face.
Still, Babones’ book reminds us that hope and achievement sometimes overcome fear and failure.
“Sixteen for ’16” is an uplifting book stressing common-sense policy instead of candidate personality. Its proposals aren’t just no-nonsense, they’re no-brainers – and popular with most Americans, polls show.
Each of its 16 brief sections targets a vital reform in straightforward, sensible prose.
Babones lists the right to join a union and a living minimum wage, but also includes government-led job creation; a national infrastructure renewal; a rededication to public education; universal single-payer health care; higher taxes on higher incomes; refinancing Social Security; stronger bank regulation; 10 sick days, 10 holidays, and 10 vacation days a year; an end to the prison state; securing reproductive rights; making it easier to vote; closing down the NSA; more humane treatment of refugees; and addressing global warming.
Other goals were left off Babones’ list, he concedes, such as civil rights and anti-militarism, but there are many “challenges for all of society that cannot be solved by specific government action,” he writes.
Babones proposes a government jobs program to repair the country's infrastructure since, he argues, private industry alone can’t – or won’t. Like Depression-era programs or the Rural Electrification plan launched when most power companies wouldn’t expand outside urban areas, government-backed programs have worked.
As for health care, the Affordable Care Act is a positive first step, he says, but only a step, and one that logically leads to granting everyone access to Medicare, which already covers 53.5 million Americans: “It is tried and tested; it is cost effective; and it works."
Refinancing Social Security could be achieved with the logical action of making Americans who earn more than $117,000 pay based on income.
Regarding climate change, Babones asserts that it’s literally a universal issue, writing, “There is no cause more progressive than environmental stewardship. There should be no cause more conservative than conservation."
The election is about 500 days ahead, but now’s the time to build on what’s rational – and popular. For example, more than 70 percent of the public supports increasing the minimum wage, including a majority of Republicans and conservatives, according to a CNN poll, and 74 percent of Americans supports requiring companies to offer paid sick leave to their employees, according to a HuffPost/YouGov poll.
Why the lack of action?
Those back-seat drivers screaming over Congress’ shoulder.
With low-turnout elections financed mostly by the rich and powerful, Congress too often surrenders to campaign contributors’ and lobbyists’ hostility to any “financial concessions” from the 1%. That partly clarifies not just why Republicans don’t act on Americans’ progressive preferences, but why too many Democrats stopped bothering to even advocate such reforms.
Sure, Congress is in the driver’s seat. But Americans own the vehicle, and it’s past time to rebuild the engine.
To maybe a V-16.
[PICTURED: Author Salvatore Babones.]