The “thumping” taken by the Republican Congress on election day was not just a rejection of K Street corruption and the catastrophe in Iraq. It was a call to action on issues that are more immediately relevant to people’s lives. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will begin to answer that call by pushing a “100 Hours” agenda–including common-sense legislation to increase the minimum wage, cut interest on student loans and open the way for Medicare to negotiate prescription drug prices.
That’s a good beginning, but it’s only a down payment on a broader agenda. As Bill Moyers writes in this issue, progressives now have the opportunity to develop a new vision that returns power to the American people for the first time in generations. Moyers is right that to-do lists don’t add up to a vision. But Democrats must show they are serious by passing bold measures that define a new “people’s agenda.” With that in mind, here are ten existing pieces of legislation that deserve to be passed by our new Congress. Some of these bills are eminently passable, a few are related to the “100 Hours” agenda and others can be seen as long-term goals. But all would help return our nation to the path to a more perfect union (note: Bill numbers may change in the new Congress).
1. Healthcare for All
More than 47 million Americans are now living without health coverage. Representative John Conyers’s United States National Health Insurance Act (HR 676) would create a single-payer healthcare system by expanding Medicare to every resident. All necessary medical care would be covered–from prescription drugs to hospital services to long-term care. There would be no deductibles or co-payments. Funding would come from sources including savings from negotiated bulk procurement of medications; a tax on the top 5 percent of income earners; and a phased-in payroll tax that is lower than what employers currently pay for less comprehensive employee health coverage. With seventy-eight Congressional co-sponsors, and the endorsement of more than 200 labor organizations as well as healthcare groups, there is muscle and momentum behind this bill. To get involved, check out www.Healthcare-Now.org.
2. Counting Every Vote
Representative Rush Holt has introduced the Voter Confidence and Increased Accessibility Act (HR 550) requiring all voting systems to provide a voter-verified paper trail to serve as the official ballot for recounts and audits. It would also insure accessibility for voters with disabilities. The bill, which was introduced in February 2005 and which currently has 222 bipartisan co-sponsors, was tied up in committee by the Republican Congress. Senators Hillary Clinton and Barbara Boxer and Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones introduced the Count Every Vote Act (S 450 and HR 939), which also calls for a voter-verified paper trail and would improve access for language minority voters, illiterate voters and voters with disabilities. Co-sponsors of that legislation include Senators John Kerry, Frank Lautenberg, Patrick Leahy and Barbara Mikulski, and seventy-nine House members.
3. Healthy Families Act
According to Washington Post columnist Amy Joyce, “nearly half of all private-sector workers in the United States do not have a single day of paid sick leave. And more do not have a paid day off that can be used to care for a sick child.” Seventy-five percent of low-wage workers lack paid sick leave–the very people who can least afford to take a day off and still be able to pay the bills. In 2005 Senator Edward Kennedy and Representative Rosa DeLauro introduced the Healthy Families Act (S 932 and HR 1902)–a bill that would require employers with fifteen or more workers to provide one week of paid sick leave for those who work thirty or more hours a week. Employees who work less than that would receive prorated leave. The leave could be used to care for family as well. The new Democratic Congress is expected to hold hearings on the legislation, which has fifteen original co-sponsors in the Senate and seventy-one in the House, in early 2007.