One of the most significant results of the 2022 midterms was the election, across the country, of the “most progressive Democratic Caucus in decades.” With wins of almost all of the 18 candidates supported by the Democratic Progressive Caucus (DPC), the DPC will now have 103 members in the 118th Congress (Senator Bernie Sanders [VT] plus 102 House members). Chaired by Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA), the Caucus now also boasts two of the top three leaders on the Democratic side of the House: Hakeem Jeffries (NY: Leader) and Katherine Clark (MA: Minority Whip).
According to their website, the DPC’s priorities include “ending America’s broken for-profit health care system, raising the minimum wage, eliminating political corruption, bolstering labor protections for working families, and taking swift action to stop the warming of our planet.”
While most Americans support these goals, the Republican Party fights against many of them at every turn. In a November 2022 article in Project-syndicate.org, author Joseph Stiglitz points out that the argument of the right that progressive goals constitute “left-wing extremism” does not hold water for most Americans. Stiglitz asserts that “a chronic lack of investment in education” is part of the reason that our life expectancy is lower than in other advanced economies (and falling) and that inequality is rising. Republicans have been reciting for decades the mantra of “less government” (except when it comes to abortion, however…), yet Americans are now coming to believe that many of our most serious social problems must be solved collectively and at the federal policy level. Examples include sharply raising the federal minimum wage, protecting our environment, enhancing our economic security, strengthening competition, and ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard in our political system. Stiglitz further observes that most Americans believe that access to health care is a basic human right, that a college education should not saddle students or their families with unbearable debt, that we should be able to enjoy a secure retirement, and that all of us should have access to decent affordable housing.
Significantly, Stiglitz notes that not only are progressive goals recognized globally but “are considered common sense in many other places. The countries that consistently record higher standards of living and well-being (across a variety of metrics) have successfully adopted policies reflecting these principles – and that is no accident.”
What might we expect from the DPC in the next two years, with the House in GOP control? In a statement issued on December 1, DPC Chair Jayapal made it clear that their work will not stop just because Democrats are now the minority party: “It is essential that Democrats are not just an opposition party next Congress, but also a proposition party – putting forward a proactive vision for policies that invest in working families, advance equity and justice, and meet the challenges facing our country, from economic inequality and voter suppression to the climate crisis. These positions are key to helping us achieve that. Democrats can and will continue to show the American people their priorities are our priorities, and that the work to deliver for them will not stop.”
This stance has several implications:
- Democrats and other Americans who consider themselves progressive will need to keep momentum going as much as possible to ensure that Democrats retain the Presidency and the Senate and retake the House in 2024.
- Some initiatives that can no longer originate in the House might be able to shift, at least in part, to the Democratically-controlled Senate. For instance, suggestions have been made that the Senate might launch its own January 6th investigation. At the very least, the Senate with a 51-49 Democratic majority will now have important advantages, according to CNN:
- “Democrats will hold majorities in each committee, allowing them to process legislation and nominations much faster. Democrats will also enjoy bigger staffs and budgets.”
- “Democrats will have stronger power to issue subpoenas. They will no longer need bipartisan support to issue subpoenas.”
- A centrist Democrat such as Joe Manchin, and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona who has now become an Independent, may not hold as much power over Democrats’ agenda.
- Filling a Supreme Court vacancy, if one becomes available, could be easier.
- Progressive goals can and should shift to the states as a stop-gap measure. This is already taking place with the abortion issue since Roe v. Wade was overturned over the summer, and of course states are able to have a minimum wage higher than the federal rate, for instance. While passing policies at the state level is a poor substitute for federal legislation on many issues, we have seen how state legislative actions can eventually lead to progressive changes at the national level – such as took place with same-sex marriage.
- The more that Americans see the success of progressive federal policies – policies that help them, their families, and those they care about – the more likely they are to support such policies, and the politicians that espouse them, in future elections at all levels. This will depend, however, on reducing the extreme disinformation that many Americans absorb on a daily basis. The responsibility for reducing dangerous, anti-democratic disinformation lies with all of us but perhaps more heavily on elected officials, journalists, television personalities, extremely wealthy individuals, social media companies and their executives, and others who wield enormous power in our culture.
The incoming Democratic Progressive Caucus deserves our support: they are, for the most part, working for us. Stay tuned to witness their efforts and successes.