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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Next Challenge For “The Progressive Block”

This item by Ed Kilgore was first published on October 9, 2009
Amidst the widely varying perspectives on the health care reform battle, one astute observer, Chris Bowers of Open Left, has always had a very clear focus. He’s viewed the public option fight in the context of a potentially momentous test of strength between congressional progressives (notably the House Progressive Caucus) and the Blue Dogs. In fact, Bowers has been something of a prime mover in what he’s dubbed the “Progressive Block” strategy, wherein the Democratic Left begins to emulate, in carefully chosen cases, Blue Dog willingness to threaten defeat for administration-backed legislation if its minimum requirements aren’t met.
Chris has become reasonably satisfied that the “Progressive Block” has or at least should have a big impact on the shape of health reform legislation. So now he’s looking down the road to other issues for which this strategy might be approrpriate:

[W]hat should House Progressives target next if they achieve this proof of concept? Climate change might not be feasible, since almost every House Progressive already voted in favor of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Afghanistan probably won’t work, since their won’t be anymore supplemental appropriation bills (it will be merged into the budget now), and because Republicans will vote in favor of Afghanistan funding as long as it isn’t tied to any other legislation. Financial regulation is difficult because it requires drawing a bright line on such a murky subject. Immigration is a possibility, but given all of the delays in even introducing an immigration bill, it isn’t clear at all that the Democratic leadership considers immigration reform to be must-pass legislation.
The best bet is for Progressives to target the budget next year. Specifically, they should demand a substantial, probably 10%, increase in taxes on the wealthiest 1% of Americans.

Chris goes on to explain this suggestion in terms of various criteria: the upper-end tax increase would be popular, populist, fiscally responsible, unacceptable to any conservatives, and clearly eligible for budget reconciliation treatment (which avoids the 60-vote barrier in the Senate). In other words, it would be a potentially successful and fruitful initiative that would be highly differentiating by party and ideology. He doesn’t explicitly say this, but it would also represent a pretty direct challenge to the deficit-obsessed Blue Dogs.

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