These are bleak days for America’s progressive movement. The Democratic primary process handed the party’s nomination to the candidate with the most conservative record.
Corporate-friendly politicians like the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, are using the pandemic to brandish their images and install billionaires to run things. Progressive lawmakers in Congress are being steamrolled, even by their own party’s leadership. And a recession is battering the state and local budgets that fund progressive priorities like education [and a social safety net].
Perhaps this is a temporary stall-out – a fleeting moment of retreat in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back trajectory. After all, polls continue to show that from workers’ rights to universal healthcare, a majority of Americans support a progressive policy agenda.
The problem, though, is that Democrats in Washington are not just passively failing to mount a strong opposition to Donald Trump – they are actively helping Republicans try to fortify the obstacles to long-term progressive change well after this emergency subsides.
This corporate counter-revolution is easiest to see in Democrats’ enthusiastic support for Republicans’ legislative response to the coronavirus crisis. Democrats’ entire 2018 electoral campaign told America that the opposition party needed to win back Congress in order to block Trump’s regressive agenda. And yet, when the Republicans proposed a bill to let Trump’s appointees dole out government cash to their corporate allies with no strings attached, this same opposition party mustered not a single recorded vote against the package. Not one.
Thanks to that, Trump appointees and the Federal Reserve can now hand out $4tn to politically connected corporations as they lay waste to our economy and steamroll progressive reforms. Private equity firms and fossil fuel companies get new tax breaks as they buy elections and try to lock in permanent climate change.
These bailouts were part of a larger legislative package that included good things like expanded unemployment benefits – and so you could argue that Democrats simply had to swallow a bitter pill and vote yes. Except, they subsequently proposed their own standalone legislation that would further strengthen the corporate opponents of progressive reform.
For example, there is the Democrats’ push to alter the so-called paycheck protection program (PPP). Those loans were designed to help employees of mom-and-pop enterprises throughout the country. House Democrats’ new stimulus legislation would open up the small business lending program to what they call “small nonprofits”, but their language was crafted to provide the forgivable loans to industry trade associations. Those lobby groups represent the planet’s biggest corporations – and their political action committees have delivered more than $191m of campaign cash to lawmakers in the last two decades.
Democrats have pitched their legislation as a “message” bill that declares their values – and in this case, they are reassuring Washington power-players that money meant for workers at neighborhood restaurants, local shops and other mom-and-pop concerns can be raided by the front groups representing giant drug companies, health insurers and Wall Street firms. If the legislation passes, it would not merely be an epic tale of greed – the new funding stream for corporate lobbying groups would bolster the very forces that make sure federal policy disempowers workers, maximizes private profit and generally protects the ruling class.
The tragedy is we’re already moving in that wrong direction, and chances to change the dynamic don’t come around often.
It’s an even worse story on healthcare. As 43 million Americans face the prospect of losing private health insurance, Democrats had a huge opportunity. After Trump himself suggested he wanted the government to pay healthcare providers directly for treating uninsured Covid-19 patients, they could have called his bluff and passed existing legislation to expand a Medicare program that provides actual medical care. Instead, House Democrats passed a bill to support lightly regulated private insurance marketplaces and to subsidize existing private insurance plans through a Rube Goldberg machine known as Cobra – and they passed this giveaway just after receiving an infusion of campaign cash collected by insurance lobbyists.
See you below.