Every American who cares about jobs and a healthy U.S. economy should pick up the phone right now, call your Congressperson’s office, and tell whoever answers, “I want my representative to vote this week for the Back to Work Budget introduced by the Congressional Progressive Caucus.” [Note: The Congressional switchboard is 202 224-3121.] Also click here to go on record as telling Democrats to vote against the job-killing Ryan budget and for the Back to Work budget.
But we can’t just stop after that. Beyond this week’s vote, it is very important for progressives to keep building a movement to demand a plan for jobs – like the Back to Work Budget.
Republicans outnumber Democrats in the House, and they will vote almost in lock-step for Republican Rep. Paul Ryan’s job-killing budget. And after that vote, most progressives will go back to trying to soften to impact of Washington’s bipartisan fixation on reducing deficits. This is important work. We must stop Democrats from offering to cut Social Security benefits. And we should demonstrate that cutting tax loopholes for the rich is a better deficit-reduction strategy than cutting programs for kids.
But reducing the deficit in a more humane way will not create more jobs for the 20 million Americans who desperately need jobs. And Democrats shouldn’t delude themselves: We are not going to win back the House in 2014 by campaigning as the guys who have a better plan for cutting the deficit than the Paul Ryan and the Republicans. Not while the economy is barely growing or falling backwards.
In 2010, the last midterm Congressional election, Democrats lost the House because they didn’t run on a plan to create jobs. And they didn’t use such a plan to expose Republican jobs proposals as giveaways to the rich.
President Obama and his team felt Democrats deserved credit for having passed the 2009 stimulus bill and for preventing the economy from falling into another Great Depression. But rather than call for more action to create jobs (which they could have blamed Republicans for opposing), President Obama’s message in the run-up to that election was “Have patience, the jobs are coming.” But voters were still not seeing new jobs or a robust recovery, and polls, like Stan Greenberg’s post-election survey for the Campaign for America’s Future, found that a crucial percentage of voters were disappointed in Obama and the Democrats because they “failed to get the economy growing or create jobs.” And so we lost the House.
Today, despite a presidential campaign that revolved a lot on who had the better jobs plan, the political debate in Washington, driven by the party that lost the presidency, is once again dominated by the question of which party has the best plan to cut deficits. But Democrats should not forget that voters still care most about jobs. After the presidential election, 95 percent of Americans told Gallup job creation should be President Obama’s top priority for his second term.
Progressives need to listen to the American majority and build a movement to demand action on jobs. Of course we should do everything we can to mitigate the damage from Republican austerity measures. But our more important mission is to lay out an agenda to create jobs and growth. We should take that agenda to the American people – and we should also demand that the Democrats, who claim to be the party of the middle class and the poor, embrace that agenda (something very much like the CPC Back to Work Budget) and take it into the 2014 elections.
We can and should keep the CPC Back to Work jobs plan alive – and we should build a movement around it. At town meetings in every district, we should ask some big questions in a very public way:
Which House candidates support creating jobs through investing in infrastructure? Which candidates understand that, at today’s low interest rates, these long term investments are practically free? Which Democrats or Republicans are willing to take a tour (in their districts) of eroding bridges, roads, sewer lines or nonexistent rail projects, accompanied by unemployed workers and union members who might get those jobs, if we invest in the future?
Which House candidates want to rehire teachers, police, and first responders? Who would pledge to find federal revenue to share with the states and cities to reverse the terrible layoffs that have devastated education and public services – and worsened the economic crisis? Let’s do a tour of school houses and fire stations that would benefit from infrastructure investments, too.
Which candidates will fight to make sure all jobs are good jobs – and all communities full-employment communities? Candidates should not only go on record for raising the minimum wage and improving benefits like paid sick leave, but they should also be asked what they would do to put jobs into African-American and Hispanic communities. And they should tell us where they stand on strengthening workers’ rights to bargain for better wages and better benefits.
And which House candidates would go to senior centers and nursing homes in their district? The questions on the table: would you force big drug companies to lower their prices – or would you rather cut Medicare and Medicaid benefits and turn Medicaid into a voucher, as Ryan proposes?
The CPC Back to Work jobs plan is just full of ideas that creative organizers could make the focus of the next election. But in order to get that kind of organizing going, we have to force ourselves to think beyond the next horrendous budget vote in Washington (as important as that may be), and we have to think ahead.
If we frame the debate around the next election, we should be able to get the Democrats’ attention.
And if we frame the debate around the next 10 or 20 years of America’s future – and around whether the next generation (and tomorrow’s retirees) will be able to create a hopeful future of good jobs and opportunities for all – we will surely get the attention and involvement of Americans of all walks of life. And if we do that, we can not only win back the House, we can rebuild our country.