(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Republicans entered the fights over funding the government and raising the debt ceiling with a list of demands. Here are some of the modest concessions they sought in return for not shutting down the government (and, now, re-opening it after they shut it down) and/or not tanking the global economy by forcing the United States to default on its debt: approving the Keystone XL pipeline, eliminating all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, or privatizing Medicaid. Democrats, for their part, have mostly just tried to pass “clean” bills on both instances, and in the case of a continuing resolution to keep the government funded, have even accepted sequestration spending levels.
Playing with either—threatening to shut (and keep shut) the government or, worse, failing to raise the debt limit and forcing the United States to default on its obligations—is irresponsible politics. But if this is going to be a negotiation, Democrats should play offense with a list of their own demands. Even better, there are plenty of things they can put forward in negotiations that would actually have the added benefit of helping boost the economy beyond just keeping lawmakers from damaging it!
1. A public option for healthcare. Many progressives pushed hard for a system that would ensure universal access to health care, often called a public option and frequently accomplished through making Medicare available to all. That got stripped from the bill that became the Affordable Care Act. If Republicans want to make the fight about healthcare, progressives can suggest tinkering with Obamacare—by instituting a public option. This wouldn’t just make sure that everyone has access to healthcare—including those currently being left out by red states that refuse to expand Medicaid—it would also help control spending on healthcare. Medicare’s administrative costs are 2 percent of its spending, compared to 14 percent in the private industry. Its spending growth increased at a rate about 1 percentage point lower than private insurance from 1970 to 2002.
2. Universal preschool. President Obama has already put forward his plan to expand preschool to all. Democrats could stake out ground by not just demanding preschool for 3- and 4-year-olds but going even further to offer free, quality childcare (that pays workers a decent wage) for all. The benefits of free access to high-quality preschool are already well known. One study found that Chicago’s program will generate $11 for every dollar spent in economic benefits over a child’s lifetime. Another found that society stands to see a $9 return for every dollar spent in increased earnings and employment and reduced crime, need for public benefits and grade repetition. Well-educated Americans help increase the labor supply, which boosts GDP. None of these studies take into account the fact that universal preschool—particularly if it extends down to infants—is a huge benefit for working parents, particularly women, who are the default caretakers.