Schumer: Dems can win over Tea Party

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Sen. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democratic leader, says his party should aggressively promote a pro-government agenda to win over middle-class Tea Party voters this fall.

Schumer laid out his vision for political success in a major speech Thursday addressing the Center for American Progress Action Fund, a pro-Democratic advocacy group, intended to energize fellow Democrats who have been on the defensive since the botched rollout of ObamaCare last year. 

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He lamented that Democrats have become “quiet, defensive and even ashamed” of their pro-government views. 

As Republicans are hoping for another wave election in 2014, Schumer thinks Democrats could win over blue-collar independents who identify with the Tea Party, by touting the promise of government initiatives, such as raising the minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits.

“We must stop playing defense and go on offense when it comes to the need for government. We must state loudly and repeatedly that we believe government is often a necessary force for good,” said Schumer.

Schumer urged fellow Democrats to exploit “one very weak link in the Tea Party’s armor.”

“The fundamental weakness in the Tea Party machine is the stark difference between what the leaders of the Tea Party elite, plutocrats like the Koch brothers, want and what the average grassroots Tea Party follower wants,” he said, noting that many Tea Party voters support government programs such as Medicare. 

Schumer said Democrats have been too lax in rebutting conservative claims in recent years, such as the one that the Affordable Care Act would threaten Medicare benefits and employer-provided health plans.

Democrats let conservative opponents unfairly paint the government as evil and failed to push a forceful counternarrative, he said.  

Schumer, a former chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, has emerged as one of the most influential Democratic strategists in Washington in recent years. He proposed the strategy of calling for tax increases on people earning more than $1 million a year, which Democrats used effectively in the 2012 election.

General cheerleading for the potential benefits of government wouldn’t be enough, Schumer warned. He said Democrats must back up their embrace of federal solutions with specific examples. 

Democrats should tout programs and proposals that are popular with rank-and-file Tea Party members to loosen the grip the movement’s staunchly anti-government elites.

“Talking about issues, and tying them into a rubric of positive thought and rhetoric about government is essential to shining light on the fundamental contradictions in Tea Party orthodoxy and debunking their dogma,” he said.  

Schumer laid out a five-point agenda that will serve as a roadmap for Democrats in the run-up to the midterm elections.

He said raising the minimum wage should be at the top of the list.

A federal solution to help middle-class families pay for college costs should be another priority, he said.

Third, he proposed a renewed commitment to infrastructure spending.

Fourth, he said Democrats should make the issue of equal pay for women another top priority of the election year.

Finally, Schumer said the Obama administration should respond more forcefully to foreign partners, such as China, who fail to adhere to trade agreements.

“This is a natural path that can help convince Tea Party members government is helpful, if not a necessity,” he said. 

Schumer acknowledged the list could change or grow and mentioned universal Pre-K, childcare affordability and job-training initiatives as other possibilities. 

He also called for electoral reforms to limit the power of independent political groups that have funded Tea Party candidates and promoted anti-government ideology.

The Obama administration has begun to use administrative action to restrict groups in the wake of the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission Supreme Court ruling. Schumer said Republicans nearly derailed the recent budget deal by insisting on language that would stop the Internal Revenue Service from “administratively closing some of the Citizens United loopholes.”

He said state election officials should consider moving to a jungle primary system similar to what was recently adopted in California, where the top two vote getters in a nonpartisan primary advance to the general election.    

“This would prevent a hard-right candidate from gaining office with only 22 percent of the vote,” he said.