Congressional Democrats rolled out an economic agenda for the 2018 elections this week, and despite its bland title, “A Better Deal: Better Jobs, Better Wages, Better Future,” the agenda reflects the growing strength and influence of the populist movement inside the Democratic Party.
Meanwhile, Our Revolution, the group that grew out of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign, along with the National Nurses Union, Fight for 15, People’s Action, and others launched the “Summer for Progress,” an activist push to get at least half of the Democratic House caucus to endorse the “People’s Platform,” another stab at an economic agenda for Democrats. The contrast between the two documents reveals the both the scope and the limits of the new Democratic consensus.
Both documents assume that resistance is not enough. “Democrats have failed to articulate a strong, bold economic program…. We also failed to communicate our values to show that we were on the side of working people, not the special interests. We will not repeat the same mistake,” said the “Better Deal” agenda from Democratic Congressional leadership. The groups pushing the “Summer for Progress” agreed: Democrats “must lay out a bold vision for how we create a country that works for everyone—not just the very wealthy.”
Both the People’s Platform and the Better Deal agenda are designed to offer a small number of bold, clear reforms to put before voters. The Better Deal agenda is focused on the economy; the People’s Platform includes broader issues. Neither is intended to be a comprehensive platform. Foreign-policy and national-security issues are excluded, as are most social issues.
Both documents are framed in the populist language and analysis championed by Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren. “Too many families,” the leadership document argued, believe “the rules of the economy are rigged against them” by “special interests lobbyists and large corporations.”
A background polling memo by Hart Research for the “Better Deal” illustrates how popular this analysis is. It found that “fully 79 percent of voters in Senate battleground states agree that ‘the rules of the economy today are rigged against average Americans, and America’s working families need a better deal.’”