A manifesto for progressives

The Progressive Caucus in Congress can save Democrats from a disaster in the 2010 elections that could destroy any semblance of a governing majority and erase any hope for the mandate for change that voters gave Democrats in 2008.

Nothing has changed. Lobbyists dominate the town. Money dominates the legislation. Democrats repeatedly fail to fight for first principles. Voters are angry. Democrats are now the party of incumbency in a nation that again demands change.

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It is astounding that Republicans, who adopt nihilism as a strategy and banana-republic obstruction as a tactic, who hope that America fails as a plan and who have popularity at rock-bottom levels, could win a major election victory over Democrats.

With a president who remains on the sidelines and a majority that becomes a mockery, the Senate looks like the movie “Casablanca” without Bogart or Bergman. The 60-vote rule is not respected as the result of a mandate for change, but exploited as a tool of legislative extortion that brings humiliation to one of its prime practitioners, who is now down 30 points in the polls back home.

Here is a great truth that remains unspoken in official Washington today: On issue after issue it is the Progressive Caucus that speaks for the majority of political independents, not the president who gives in too easily, not the Republicans who oppose any change, and not the Casablanca Democrats who exploit the 60-vote rule for petty cash, petty pork or petty vanities.

While Democrats surrender on a long list of major healthcare reforms supported by large majorities of independents, insurance and drug companies pour campaign cash into Republican coffers in states throughout the nation. The front page of The New York Times said it all, in bold ink, on Dec. 29: “Money pours to G.O.P.”

These gushing rivers of special-interest money are aimed at electing Republican governors and state legislators, who would dominate the great redistricting following the 2010 census, threatening Democratic members of the House and Senate in 2010, sounding a death knell for Democratic control of the House once the redistricting is done, if not sooner.

Insurers and Big Pharma cannot be blamed for thinking of Democrats, Never give a sucker an even break. First they induce surrender on progressive issues of great popularity with independents at the federal level, then they wage partisan war against Democrats at the state level, against what is left of an unpopular bill.

1. Progressives should speak for the huge majority of independents and fight for a public option with an opt-in provision that would allow states that favor it to have it. This would regain the political ground and reverse the political-sucker play against Democrats. Progressives should propose sending the money saved by the public option back to participating states for job-creating programs.

2. Progressives should fight for the huge majority of independents and make price-fixing, price-gouging and collusion by insurers illegal. Any insurance exchange with legalized price-fixing is ludicrous and repellant to a large majority of Americans.

3. Progressives should fight for the huge majority of independents and allow import of cheap lower-priced drugs that Americans overwhelmingly want.

4. Progressives should fight for the huge majority of independents and repeal the Bush tax cuts for upper incomes, enact an unjust-enrichment surtax on Wall Street bonuses and use the revenue in the short term to lower payroll taxes to generate growth, cut small-business taxes to create jobs and give hard-time rebates to seniors and military families of active-duty troops.

Progressives should fight for the majority of independents by battling against bank rip-offs of credit card customers and foreclosure abuses even against American churches during the holiday season, as reported last week in The Washington Post.

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Progressives would be joined by many Republicans in the House and Senate to end legalized insurance price-fixing and allow import of lower-priced drugs. These issues will win more than 60 votes in the Senate and should be pushed through relentlessly. On other issues where progressives speak for the majority, the reconciliation process should be used for the majority to defeat the minority that obstructs the changes the people demand.

It is false and folly to suggest Democrats win by repeatedly surrendering on issues where they speak for the majority. Only by fighting for the majority they represent will Democrats win the next great change election that is coming.

Budowsky was an aide to former Sen. Lloyd Bentsen and Bill Alexander, then chief deputy majority whip of the House. He holds an LL.M. degree in international financial law from the London School of Economics. He can be read on The Hill’s Pundits Blog and reached at brentbbi@webtv.net.