Policies for the Shitty Democratic Model
In which Data for Progress reviews the 115th Congress and Looks to What Lies Ahead
The 116th Congress has begun and Democrats have control of the House. The most significant consequence of this is that Trump’s legislative agenda is effectively halted, but there is also the possibility that bipartisan legislation will pass. We’ve compiled an analysis of legislation that was introduced in the 115th Congress, which we can use to understand which Democrats tend to break with the party and which Democrats are the most proactive in introducing progressive legislation. We analyze several votes on bills introduced by Republicans, in addition to legislation introduced and cosponsored by Democrats.
Our analysis of Democrats in the 115th Congress consists of roll call votes for bills that received a vote and cosponsorships of bills that did not. Each of the bills were hand selected by us to be representative of a broad range of policy topics, and include votes on conservative legislation, cosponsorship of core Democratic policies like expanding Social Security and increased gun control, and cosponsorship of more ambitious progressive policy goals such as codetermination and abolishing cash bail. The goal is to be able to distinguish between Democrats who vote with Republicans more often than other Democrats in similarly situated districts, replacement-level Democrats who cast decent votes when called upon but lag behind in terms of proactive support for progressive policies, and Democrats who take the lead in pushing the boundaries on over-the-horizon progressive priorities.
There is no set of policies that can capture this perfectly, and policy priorities may differ from person to person. This is to say, debate on our choices is welcome and more policy dimensions can be incorporated into future analyses.
Data can help us interpret the world, but the point is to change it. Democrats ultimately do respond to pressure, and we can use this information to highlight which representatives in the 116th Congress can be pressured on various issues without running the risk of an electoral backlash. We focus on Democrats here because there is no reason to believe that Republicans would respond to activist or constituent pressure from the left. However if you are interested in voting Republicans out of office (and you should be), we will soon be ramping up our Give Smart project for the 2019 election cycle.
How it Works
For each district held by a Democrat in the 115th Congress, the model estimates the likelihood that their “generic” Democratic replacement would support a particular bill based on which of their Democratic colleagues supported the bill, controlling for the political dynamics and demographic characteristics of their districts. In particular we account for district partisan voter index (PVI); the percent of the district that is white, African American, or Asian American or Pacific Islander; the percent of the district that holds a bachelor's degree; the district’s household income; and whether the member was part of Democratic leadership.
The difference between the probability that a generic replacement would support a policy and whether a member actually does is a measure of whether that member is out of step with where we can reasonably expect them to be based on their district. This way, the model does not tell us which Democrats have the most liberal or conservative voting records, but instead tells us which members are more conservative or liberal than we’d expect a generic Democrat in that same district to be.
For example, suppose the model predicts that there is a probability of 0.99 for a generic Democrat in a particular district to support a given policy. This could happen for a Democrat in a deep blue district on a policy that is supported by a large majority of Democrats. If the actual Democrat doesn’t support the policy (this is encoded as a binary value of 0), then their score for that policy is 0-0.99 or -0.99, close to the lowest possible score. If they do support the policy, their score is 1-0.99 or 0.01. In other words, you don’t get much credit for supporting policies that you are expected to support (with those expectations set by your colleagues), but you do get penalized heavily for not supporting policies that you are expected to support. On the other hand, you get a lot of credit for supporting policies that the model does not expect you to support, and do not take much of a penalty if you don’t support a policy when the model’s expectations are low.
We can add up these scores over many bills to see which members are consistently out of step with their peers, which members are average, and which members are leaders. We compute separate scores for roll call votes, cosponsorship of core Democratic issues, and cosponsorship of over the horizon progressive issues since it’s helpful to keep these three concepts separate. We weight the scores so that each policy category contributes the same amount to the total score, since for example we have several policies on labor but only two on gun control.
There are other useful metrics for scoring members of congress such as DW-NOMINATE and Progressive Punch. We find these scores somewhat opaque, and our scores are much easier to interpret. Furthermore, NOMINATE and Progressive Punch (as well as FiveThirtyEight’s Trump Score) only use votes, which are only one type of behavior that we care about. We find that several representatives who are nearly identical on votes may be very different when it comes to cosponsoring core Democratic or progressive issues. This reveals many opportunities to engage with members of Congress and push them to adopt important issues which would not be identified using some of those other scores. Our framework also allows us to compare the Democratic caucus to public opinion, which we’ll discuss later on.
Before we dive into some results, let’s pause to discuss some of the limitations of our approach. First, we emphasize again that the policies included in this analysis were hand chosen by us, and the results would be different if our choices were different. Tweet to us if you think we neglected an important policy and, again, new issues can be incorporated into subsequent analyses.
Second, it’s also important to emphasize that we control for a relatively limited number of possible factors that could contribute to decisions on individual votes. We account for whether a member is part of Democratic leadership, since those members have a de facto national constituency and tend to show distinct voting and cosponsorship patterns. Apart from that, we only include characteristics of a member’s district, and we exclude other factors such as a member’s donor base, caucus membership, their professional network, or ties to interest groups which are known to be related to voting and cosponsorship. That means that our model should not be used as a tool for predicting who is most likely to come out in support of a policy if they have not already. Instead, the model highlights which members are unlikely to face an electoral penalty if they begin supporting an existing progressive priority, which can help activists and other constituents direct their efforts.
Third, it is important to note that cosponsoring a bill and voting for it are qualitatively as well as quantitatively different behaviors, and that the former doesn’t always guarantee the latter. We keep these behaviors separate in our analysis for a handful of reasons, and this is one of them. Also, if a representative does not cosponsor a bill, that does not mean that they ultimately would not vote for it if it came to a vote. Since Democrats were the out-party in the 115th congress, there was not much of a chance that many of these bills would ever see a vote. However, cosponsorships give us a good sense of issue priorities.
Finally, we also need to point out that there are tradeoffs when we average scores over multiple votes. This makes the results easier to digest, and helps us determine which members are consistently out of step, but on the other hand some information is lost. For some members, good votes can be cancelled by bad votes which may hide objectionable patterns. Our goal is to increase productive engagement between members of congress and their constituents, and while we can provide useful information in this regard the scores are by no means definitive. Ultimately, every elected official should be prepared to defend their entire record to their constituents.
The widget below lets you explore the scores for each Democratic member of the the 115th Congress. One of the biggest standouts in Henry Cuellar from the 28th District of Texas and a top primary target for progressive activists. Despite being in a D+10 district, he votes with Republicans much more often than his peers and lags far behind on cosponsorship of core Democratic issues.
Josh Gottheimer (NJ-5), represents a Republican-leaning district, so we would expect him to be more moderate than the rest of the caucus. However, he votes with Republicans even more often and cosponsors even fewer bills on core Democratic priorities than than expected given the characteristics of his district, so there may be room for activists to move him somewhat to the left. For instance, Gottheimer is not a cosponsor of Social Security expansion, and in fact he voted with Republicans on a balanced budget amendment which would have triggered automatic Social Security cuts if it had passed. Our results suggest there was no reason for him to have taken that vote, and it is unlikely that supporting expansion would have triggered an electoral backlash. Moderate Democrat Connor Lamb recently won a nearby Republican leaning district in Pennsylvania running on Social Security expansion and was one of the original founders of newly formed Expand Social Security Caucus.
Voting records alone don’t tell the whole story of the 115th Congress. For example, we see that Jan Schakowsky (IL-9) and Barbara Lee (CA-13) are close to average on votes and core Democratic issues, but are clearly among the caucus leaders in terms of cosponsoring over-the-horizon progressive priorities. Mark Pocan (WI-2) and Raul Grijalva (AZ-3) are also standouts in this regard.
There are many factors that are involved in emergence and success of a primary challenger, but this model can give us some insight. Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) is a reliable Democratic vote but trails her peers on core and over-the-horizon issues. She faced a primary challenger who she defeated in 2018. Michael Capuano (MA-7) was in a similar situation, although he faced a much more capable challenger in Ayanna Pressley and lost his seat. Joe Crowley (NY-14) also lost his primary to Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. We scored Crowley as average on votes and over the-horizon-issues, and above average on core issues. It appears that this is somewhat attributable to Crowley adopting more progressive positions in response to the primary challenge, but it’s also clear that issue positions are only one correlate of successful primaries.
So far, we have only judged Democrats relative to their peers. This is a useful tool, but it’s possible that the whole caucus is out of line with public opinion. In this case, using the peer baseline will hide instances when the whole Democratic caucus is out of step with their general electorates. To create a public opinion baseline, we take the difference between the estimated probability that a generic Democrat would support a policy and actual public support for it. We average these differences over all districts, which gives us a measure of whether Democrats tend to be to the left or to the right of their districts’ electorates on a given policy. This analysis is limited to issues where we have district level estimates of public opinion, which are listed below.
Democrats are to the left of their general electorates on a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, banning assault weapons, and DC statehood (to be clear, these policies have net support nationally, but not overwhelmingly so in every congressional district). They are slightly to the left of their general electorates on paid family leave, raising the minimum wage, and repealing the Hyde amendment. These are among the core Democratic issues, and we should certainly expect the left-of-center party to be left of center on them. Even though Democrats are already to the left of their electorates on these topics, there is still a path forward for activists. For example, immigration is a deeply polarizing issue that can present challenges for vulnerable Democrats, and it’s not likely that Democrats will want to increase the salience of immigration before an election. However, there are also opportunities to push for Democrats in safe seats to extract concessions from leadership on immigration policy. State and local officials can also be pressured to end cooperation with ICE. While immigration is a difficult issue from an electoral perspective, activists should continue to make the case for the decriminalization of migration and the abolition of agencies that inflict human rights abuses on migrants.
Democrats appear to have lots of room to move left on renewable energy (and likely environmental policy in general). Alexandria Ocasio Cortez (NY-14) and an activist group called the Sunrise Movement have had some moderate success so far in elevating the salience of the climate crisis and solutions to it, such as a Green New Deal. It’s not yet clear if this will eventually materializes into concrete legislation, but it’s clear that activists won’t be letting up. Democrats in the 115th Congress also appear to have lagged behind on automatic voter registration, but it’s very likely that the 116th Congress will make this one of their top priorities.
In a stunningly out of touch statement, former Governor of Virginia Terry McAulliffe said that he opposed tuition free college since Democrats should not pay for the children of the wealthy to go to school. We used the exact same argument as a Republican counterframe when we polled tuition free college for the first edition of our New Progressive Agenda Project. It’s frustrating to see Democrats parrot right wing talking points that could be deployed against any universal program, especially when the concern of the wealthy reaping underserved benefits could easily be addressed by increasing their taxes. However, according to our polling, the public doesn’t seem to buy into this argument. Democrats clearly have space to take up tuition free college.
Democrats appear to have some room to move left on ending cash bail and mandatory minimums. Congress recently passed the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill, with bipartisan support. The bill contains important reforms, but is limited in scope since it only affects the federal prison population -- a small fraction of all the incarcerated people in the US. The passage of the First Step Act may encourage Democrats to go further and work toward ending cash bail and mandatory minimums, which have solid public support.
Democrats also lag behind the electorate on the issue of public housing investments. Lack of affordable housing is a crisis for many Americans, but housing has not yet gained much traction as a main political issue. From the New Progressive Agenda Project, public housing investments and construction have net public support, but very few house Democrats have cosponsored either Senator Warren’s or Senator Booker’s public housing investments bills. Further, while these bills would make public housing more affordable, they do not include construction of new social housing, which is a crucial component to any housing plan.
Codetermination would require that a certain number of seats on corporate boards are reserved for representatives elected by the workers of the company. This is
Full List of Policies
Note, cosponsorship counts only include voting members.
The 115th Congress saw action on three major progressive foreign policy priorities: ending the forever war, enabling close oversight of the defense budget, and offering reparations for past war crimes.
The most fundamental foreign policy shift sought by congressional Democrats was a repeal of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF), the absurdly broad post-9/11 law that presidents have used to justify military deployments from Kenya to the Philippines. Rep. Barbara Lee has introduced a bill to repeal the AUMF almost every year since it passed, and in 2017 her ominibus amendment to give the AUMF an eight-month sunset clause came so close to passing that Paul Ryan had to resort to rules shenanigans to prevent it from coming to a vote.
If passed, an AUMF repeal would be a watershed moment for Congress--and congressional progressives in particular -- reasserting power over questions of war and peace. After years of giving the president a blank check to call just about any military action part of the “War on Terror”, a more restrictive post-AUMF authorization would allow Congress a chance to put an expiration date on the forever war.
In addition to the AUMF repeal, we also included two more specific efforts to end American involvement in disastrous conflicts in the Middle East. 185 House Democrats (and 15 House Republicans) had their resolution to end American support for Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen undone by five Democrats who somehow thought pulling out of an incredibly unpopular war would endanger the Farm Bill. The resolution is likely to pass the house in the 116th Congress, but every extra day the war in Yemen drags on more Yemeni children die from criminal Saudi airstrikes abetted by American tax dollars.
Barbara Lee also introduced legislation to prohibit American ground troops from deploying to Syria, an attempt to limit both the military adventurism beloved of Trump administration figures like National Security Advisor John Bolton and the chances of further confrontation between American forces and Russian and/or Iranian forces in Syria.
The results of the first ever full Defense Department audit were released last year, and to no one’s surprise it failed miserably. Of the 21 investigations into different aspects of the defense budget that went into the audit report, only five resulted in a passing grade for Pentagon bookkeepers. Barbara Lee (you may sense a theme here -- no one has been a more active leader on progressive foreign policy priorities) introduced legislation to force the Pentagon to conduct a full audit each year, on pain of a significant cut in defense spending. If passed, the bill would finally bring scrutiny of military spending to a level approaching that applied to social spending, allowing Congress to make better decisions about spending priorities.
Finally, we included Barbara Lee’s Victims of Agent Orange Relief Act, a bill that grows out of efforts by Vietnamese and American activists to secure reparative justice for civilians and soldiers alike harmed by America’s use of toxic herbicides as a weapon of war in Vietnam. The bill would fund health care and services for uncompensated victims of Agent Orange and their children, as well as cleanups of contaminated land in Vietnam. The US has a long history of ignoring wrongs it has committed around the world, but the cause of internationalism depends on honest reckonings with the past to build trust for the future. Fixing some of the harm caused by Agent Orange is a good place to start.
Agent Orange Relief: 26 cosponsors
Repeal the AUMF: 31 cosponsors
Prohibit Combat Troops in Syria: 33 cosponsors
Audit the Pentagon: 38 cosponsors
Prohibit Military Assistance to Saudi Arabia: 30
End US Involvement in Yemen: 181 members voted to end involvement
Social Insurance and Anti-Poverty
Democrats in the 115th Congress introduced several bills which expand or enhance existing anti-poverty and social insurance programs. Of those, the most commonly cosponsored program is Social Security expansion. We consider Democrats to be supporters of Social Security expansion if they are a cosponsor of either the Social Security Expansion Act or the Social Security 2100 Act. These two bills are similar in that they both expand benefits and increase the cap on income that is subject to the payroll taxes that finance benefits.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is an anti-poverty policy that subsidizes the incomes of low wage workers. There are quite a few flaws with this policy, but two Democratic proposals have been introduced to shore up some of those flaws. The GAIN act increases the amount of the subsidy, and the EITC modernization act expands eligibility to students and caregivers (who are currently ineligible for the credit which is only available to those who are employed) along with several other important improvements. A complementary proposal expands child tax credits, which are among the most common and effective anti-poverty programs in use throughout the developed world and give cash to families with children in the form of a refundable tax credit.
Food insecurity and poor nutrition are among the most devastating effects of poverty, but nutrition assistance programs like SNAP have been proven to be effective. We Included the Closing the Meal Gap Act, which expands snap coverage and benefits, as well as the Weekends without hunger act, which provides support for meal programs on weekends, holidays, and the summer time, when school is out of session and many kids go without food.
Lastly, we include Barbara Lee’s Pathways out of Poverty Act, which is a sweeping set of reforms that expands Pell Grants, school lunch programs, unemployment insurance, housing assistance, and several other programs. The bill would also establish a Poverty Impact Division at the congressional budget office for assessing the effects of legislation on poverty, and would establish an Interagency poverty working group at the department of health and human services.
Expand Social Security: 170 cosponsors
Pathways Out of Poverty Act: 24 cosponsors
Child Tax Credit Expansion: 112 cosponsors
GAIN Act: 55 Cosponsors
Modernize the EITC: 18 cosponsors
Expand SNAP: 115 Cosponsors
Weekend School Lunches: 28 cosponsors
Since the 2008 financial crisis, Americans have become more attuned to the problem of extreme income and wealth inequality. Extreme inequality entrenches the wealthy in positions of power, threatens to undermine democracy, and even slows economic growth. In one of the most influential books on inequality, French economist Thomas Piketty showed that there is a tendency for the rate of returns on investments to be higher than the growth of the economy overall. That means that you can typically make a lot more money simply by owning capital than you can by working for a living (we’ll discuss Piketty and inequality more in the section on Labor). This is a recipe for disastrous inequality, and since the wealthy overwhelmingly get their income from returns on capital as opposed to compensation for labor, and can’t be ignored when designing tax policy.
The wildly popular “Buffet Rule,” or Millionaires Tax, would help slow the rise of inequality by requiring everyone with an income of one million or more be subject to an effective tax rate of 30%. Since millionaires primarily receive income from returns on capital, and returns on capital are subjected to lower rates than taxes on wages, many millionaires wind up paying significantly less than 30%.
Close Individual and Corporate Tax Loopholes: 59
Millionaire’s Tax: 9 cosponsors
Criminal Justice and Policing Reform
The United States imprisons more people per capita than the Soviet Union did at the peak of it’s gulag period. Police in the United States kill citizens at a much higher rate than similar countries, and persistent structural racism leads to these outcomes disproportionately affecting people of color. While many elected Democrats have been slow to take on these issues, several have proposed important reforms.
The cash bail system is abusive and penalizes the poor for not having money. Data for Progress recently polled ending this system and found that it has strong net support. Congressional Democrats have introduced legislation to this effect, and Senator Kamala Harris makes a very compelling case for ending cash bail here.
Mandatory Minimum Sentencing laws set harsh minimum prison sentences for a number of different offenses, most being drug offenses. Mandatory miminums have increased the number of incarcerated people and have deepened racial disparities in incarceration, but provide no discernable benefits.
We combined three bills for marijuana decriminalization/legalization. The Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition act would remove all criminal penalties for possession of marijuana and gives transfers the authority to regulate marijuana from the Drug Enforcement Administration to the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act is a similar bill, and the REFER act prohibits the use of federal funds in marijuana enforcement in states and municipalities which have decriminalized it.
In 2014, Eric Garner was killed by a police officer who held him in a chokehold. Despite a video recording the killing, the officer involved was not indicted. Hakeem Jeffries’ Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act forbids police from using chokeholds.
Legalize Marijuana: 44 cosponsors
End Cash Bail: 38 cosponsors
End Mandatory Minimums: 9 cosponsors
Outlaw Chokeholds: 17 cosponsors
The overwhelming majority of people receive their income from wages earned by working, pensions (deferred wages earned by working), and social insurance (government benefits earned by...wait for it... working). Ensuring that workers get their fair share of the national income should be a top priority for any progressive party. Piketty has noted the role of collective bargaining, minimum wage laws, and alternate forms of corporate governance and ownership in combating inequality by boosting workers’ bargaining power. This is sometimes called income predistribution (as opposed to redistribution), or ensuring that the rich don’t take more than their fair share. Ensuring a fair distribution of wealth is not the only reason for Democrats to support pro labor policies, which also help prevent discrimination and abuse -- and can even help Democrats at the ballot box.
Unions have been in decline in the United States for decades, and only 10.7% of all workers are currently union members. As unions have declined, income inequality has grown while wages for the working class have stagnated. This has not happened by accident but is the result of a concerted attack on workers through legislation and court cases at both the state and federal level. The recent Janus decision struck a major blow and there is more coming down the pike.
The legislation we’ve included here tackles multiple labor-related issues. Legislation to expand collective bargaining and require codetermination would strengthen the voice of workers. Codetermination, which has majority support, would require worker representation in corporate boards of directors. This would push corporations to be responsive to a broader range of stakeholders than just stockholders looking for the biggest short-term return.
We’ve also included several pieces of legislation aimed at directly tackling income inequality: minimum wage increases, wage theft prevention, and a job guarantee pilot. Wage theft takes billions from the pockets of workers across the US and affects all types of workers. The wage theft prevention legislation here would put a major dent in this by instituting proactive safe guards for America’s workers.
Our final group of legislation tackles some of the more coercive aspects of the current labor market: non-compete clauses and forced arbitration. Both of these practices give even more strength to companies. Forced arbitration in particular has been used to protect sexual harassers, allowing them to harass workers for decades.
Minimum Wage: 169 cosponsors
Wage theft prevention: 24 cosponsors
Non-compete ban: 8 cosponsors
Expand collective bargaining: 61 cosponsors
Codetermination: 7 cosponsors
Job Guarantee Pilot: 35 cosponsors
Forced Arbitration Ban: 58 cosponsors
Pro-Democracy and Anti-Corruption
The United States system of government was designed to be highly undemocratic. The Senate gives enormous disproportionate power to small states inhabited by populations that are older, whiter, and more rural than the country as a whole. Gerrymandering is used aggressively in several states to gain partisan advantage, and many more states use voting restrictions (often from the Jim Crow era) to limit the franchise.
Some pro-democracy reforms would probably benefit Democrats electorally, but ultimately, creating a fairer system of government should be pursued because it is a good in and of itself. Our analysis includes cosponsorship of pro-democracy reforms in the 115th Congress, but Democrats are signaling that this will be an especially high priority in the 116th Congress. The first bill Democrats introduced in the new session was a sweeping set of pro-democracy reforms, and DC representative Eleanor Holmes Norton has announced that her bill admitting DC as a state has more initial cosponsors than any of her previous attempts.
We polled statehood for DC and automatic voter registration as a part of our New Progressive Agenda Project and found both to be popular. Establishing Election Day as a holiday would make it easier for working people to participate in elections. We also included John Lewis’s Voter Empowerment Act, which establishes several federal level requirements that limit state governments’ power to disenfranchise their own citizens. Along similar lines, we included a proposal for an amendment to the Constitution establishing voting as an affirmative right.
At present, there are very few rules in place that prevent conflicts of interest in the lobbying industry. Senator Warren has introduced a bill which would drastically reduce the influence of lobbyists and eliminate those conflicts. Her bill would ban all members of Congress from receiving donations from lobbyists or lobbying firms, bar former members of congress and agency heads from becoming lobbyists once out of office, prohibit members of Congress and other elected officials from owning and trading individual stock, increase disclosure requirements, and several more. The bill has an impressive list of endorsements including the AFL-CIO and several government transparency advocacy organizations, but only has 9 house cosponsors.
DC Statehood: 175 cosponsors
Automatic Voter Registration: 63 cosponsors
Limit lobbying: 9 cosponsors
Election Day Holiday: 31 cosponsors
Constitutional right to vote: 36 cosponsors
State level voting standards: 179 cosponsors
With the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2017, reproductive health advocates have been warning that women’s access to safe and legal abortions could be threatened. However, access to safe and legal abortions have been under threat for several years now. Analysis shows that since 2011, states have adopted hundreds of abortion restrictions such as mandatory counseling or waiting periods.
These restrictions are largely clustered in states with conservative legislatures, meaning that women’s access to reproductive health care varies across the United States. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 29 states are considered hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights. Moreover, these restrictions are more likely to affect poor women of color and women in rural communities, while wealthy women generally maintain legal abortion access. The Women’s Health Protection Act is a federal bill that would prevent these state by state restrictions that have characterized the attack on reproductive rights over the last several years. Originally proposed in 2013, it has been reintroduced by Tammy Baldwin in the Senate along with Marcia Fudge and Lois Frankel in the House of Representatives.
The Hyde Amendment, which was passed in 1976, is another barrier to widespread access to safe and legal abortions. Hyde blocks federal Medicaid funding for abortion services, with the exception of pregnancy by rape or incest, or when the life of the mother is endangered by continuing the pregnancy. This law disproportionately affects poor women of color, who are the majority of Medicaid enrollees. Congressional Republicans have also recently proposed twenty-week bans, despite widespread unpopularity.
Repeal the Hyde Amendment: 135 cosponsors
Limit state level abortion restrictions: 168 cosponsors
Require state department to restore reporting on reproductive rights: 55 cosponsors
20 Week abortion ban: 186 members voting no
The higher education system in the US has put an enormous burden of debt on those who have sought a college degree. While not all Democrats are on board yet, publicly financed tuition free college is a popular and much more sensible system. We include Pramila Jayapal’s College for All Act which makes college tuition free, in addition to a more moderate bill which expands tax credits for full time students.
College is only one part of the US education system, and universal Pre-Kindergarten is another important program which would have many long term benefits, especially for underserved kids. Vocational training is another important area, since college is not appropriate for everyone and should not be the only path to the middle class. For example, the German apprenticeship program has been very successful and advocates in the US point to several potential benefits of fully funded jobs development programs that work directly with labor organizations.
Tuition free college: 47 cosponsors
Universal Pre-K: 5 cosponsors
Increase student tax credits: 113 cosponsors
The recent IPCC report was nothing short of dire, warning of severe environmental, humanitarian, and economic catastrophe if greenhouse gas emissions are not cut in half in about 12 years time. At the same time, the Trump administration has been rolling back EPA regulations and emissions standards. Most of the policies we included for the environment are fairly limited in scope, but even so do not garner as much support from house Democrats.
The Keep it in the Ground Act would halt the granting of new leases for fossil fuel extraction on federal lands, and halt the granting of permits for offshore drilling. For renewable energy transitions, we combined the 100 by 50 Act and the OFF Act. We also include the CLEANER Act, which closes several loopholes and exemptions that allow polluters to skirt EPA regulations.
Hydraulic fracture, or fracking, is a controversial method for fossil fuel extraction that many environmental activist believe should be banned. Since fracking poses a risk of groundwater contamination, some Democrats in Congress have proposed laws that would require groundwater testing at fracking sites to be made public, and that the chemicals injected into the ground be disclosed to regulators. At present, many potential groundwater contaminants are not disclosed to the public since companies argue that they are proprietary, despite being a public health risk.
Lastly, we include a House resolution introduced by Republicans expressing that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the US economy. Since activists from the Sunrise Movement and Representative-Elect Alexandria Ocasio Cortez have led the push for a Green New Deal, some on the right have offered rhetorical support for a carbon tax. A carbon tax by itself is not sufficient to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions, but we included the vote here as representative of a minimal commitment to dealing with the climate crisis.
Stop new offshore drilling: 25 Cosponsors
Renewable energy: 59 cosponsors
Close EPA loopholes: 72 cosponsors
Fracking Chemicals Disclosure: 66 cosponsors
Require Fracking Groundwater testing: 36 cosponsors
Resolution Expressing that a carbon tax would be economically detrimental: 174 members voting no
Americans are nearly unanimous in the view that there should be more regulation of the financial sector, although even among Democrats this tends to be low on the list of issue priorities. Congressional Democrats have proposed new regulations on Wall Street in addition to a financial transaction tax, which would discourage high volume trading and speculation while leaving ordinary investors unaffected.
Very few Democrats advocate for public alternatives to private finance, but Senator Gillibrand’s Postal Act would allow the Post Office to offer checking accounts and other basic financial services. This would provide relief to millions of Americans who are unbanked or underbanked, who are forced to turn to alternative, and often predatory, financial products to carry out everyday transactions.
Republicans (and a few Democrats) passed a bill which rolls back several of the regulations that were established in the Dodd-Frank bill, which passed in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown. We included this roll call vote as well.
Financial Transaction Tax: 37 cosponsors
Wall street regulation: 55 cosponsors
Postal Banking: 17 cosponsors
Dodd Frank Rollbacks: 157 members voting no
Family and Child Development
Strong majorities of Democrats in the 115th Congress cosponsored Senator Gillibrand’s Family Leave Act (she makes the case for it here), and the Child Care for Working Families act, which improves affordability and quality of childcare for low and middle income families. Paid family leave and affordable childcare would provide relief to families who balance caregiving and working. Allowing parents to spend more time with their children is crucial for early childhood development, and family leave and affordable child care would also help firms retain talented employees by making the work life balance more manageable. There is also evidence to suggest that family leave policies increase labor force participation for women.
Affordable Child Care: 138 cosponsors
Paid Family Leave: 156 cosponsors
One (positive) consequence of polarization is that the Democratic Party has, on the whole, moved to the left on immigration and is now relatively united in opposition to Donald Trump on the issue. There is broad support for a pathway to citizenship -- though divisions remain regarding what precisely this will entail. The movement to Abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement is growing and while the median Democratic representative may not endorse such a move, there are few Democrats left who are willing to go on record defending the agency.
In May 2018, Senator Kamala Harris and Representative Pramila Jayapal introduced the Detention Oversight Not Expansion (DONE) Act. This legislation had two main provisions. First, a moratorium would be placed on the construction of new ICE detention facilities. Second, funding for bodies that oversee ICE would have been increased, allowing for human rights violations to be better investigated and made public.
In June 2017, Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-VA-6) introduced H.R.3003, the No Sanctuary for Criminals Act. The legislation would have amended the Immigration and Nationality Act that would have required federal, state, local or individual from complying with federal immigration law and prohibited non-collaboration regarding enforcement. This legislation would have, in effect, elimited the legal basis for “Sanctuary Cities,” or municipal governments that limit their collaboration with the federal government regarding the enforcement of immigration law.
After the movement to abolish ICE garnered traction, the right introduced legislation to praise ICE. In July 2018, Rep. Clay Higgins (R-LA-3) introduced H.Res.990, the Supporting the Officers and Personnel who Carry out the Important Mission of the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The purpose of the resolution was to “Expresses support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers and personnel and denounces calls for ICE's abolishment.” Nearly all Democrats rejected the gambit, voting present
Democrats also largely support a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants living in the United States, specifically those who are part of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. A bipartisan Senate bill sponsored by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and John McCain (R-AZ) would have provided a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million people brought to the United States as children, paired with a study as to what measures may be needed to beef up border security. This bill carried the support of every Democrat (and Democrat-aligned independent) in the chamber except for Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Oversight for migrant detention facilities: 118 cosponsors
Punish Sanctuary Cities: 187 members voting no
Resolution supporting ICE: 167 members voting no or present
Path to Citizenship: 165 members supporting
Gun control is one of the top priorities for the Democratic base, and mass shootings have sparked a new wave of activism on the issue. Democrats in Congress are highly unified on gun control, with the overwhelming majority cosponsoring legislation to ban assault rifles. Very few Democrats broke ranks to vote for the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which requires that all states recognize concealed carry permits granted to gun owners by any other state.
Assault weapons ban: 175 cosponsors
Concealed carry reciprocity: 184 members voting no
In 2018, Democratic primaries across the country featured candidates endorsing Medicare for All, leading political commentators to acknowledge a decidedly leftward shift on this issue in the Democratic Party. In midterm races, about half of the Democratic nominees voiced their support for Medicare for All. Although the Affordable Care Act was passed under duress, since 2010 the ACA, and various provisions in particular, have grown in popularity. Increased support for the ACA and a push for Medicare for All comes at a time when Americans are enduring growing healthcare costs.
According to a Kaiser Health tracking poll from March, more than half of Americans think that lowering the cost of prescription drugs should be a top priority in Washington. Of all the issues polled by Kaiser, the cost of prescription drugs topped the list in terms of importance. Cutting the cost of prescription drugs would dramatically decrease the cost of healthcare in the United States, and their is recourse for this action to be taken by the U.S. Congress. However, a powerful prescription drug lobby is working to prevent these efforts.
According to the same Kaiser poll, 60 percent of respondents favor Medicare for All, including a majority of both Democrats and Independents, and about one-third of Republicans. Medicare for All would eliminate the private healthcare insurance industry, and extend coverage to millions of uninsured Americans. Medicare for All would also likely reduce profits for prescription drug companies. Given the growing support for Medicare for All amongst the U.S. public, and the dearth of candidates elected who ran on this issue, the Medicare for All bill seems ripe for success.
However, there has been a showing of support for bills that reverse efforts to extend medical coverage more broadly. For example the Verify First Act, which makes access to affordable healthcare more difficult for people in need, passed the House in 2017.
Medicare for All: 121 cosponsors
Rx reimportation and cost caps: 39 cosponsors
Verify first act: 182 members voting no
Housing is an under-discussed issue in the US. Increased rents squeeze families and eat away at wage growth, but the problem is multifaceted, and requires a comprehensive solution. We polled expanded public housing investments as a part of our New Progressive Agenda Project, and found that it has net positive support in about half of congressional districts around the country. Bills that expand public housing investments have been introduced by Senator Booker (he makes the case for his bill in the New Progressive Agenda Project) and Senator Warren. Senator Warren also introduced a bill which establishes new housing nondiscrimination laws, which define sexual orientation and gender identity as protected classes.
Housing Nondiscrimination laws
Public Housing investments:
Safe and functional infrastructure is crucial, and neglecting infrastructure is astoundingly costly. We included a house resolution “Supporting efforts to enact a bold jobs and infrastructure package that benefits all Americans, not just billionaires.”
Infrastructure investments: 154 cosponsors
Koch Brothers’ Bullshit
One of the most significant powers the federal government has is the ability to sustain large levels of debt to finance spending for the public benefit. However, many conservatives believe government’s only role is to enforce property rights, and by extension believe that social spending should be cut. While the empirical and logical basis for the benefits of austerity are trash, it persists as central part of conservative ideology. Since middle class tax hikes and cuts to social spending tend to be extremely unpopular, far right billionaires such as the Koch brothers usually need to resort to underhanded tactics to implement them. A balanced budget amendment, while it may sound innocent, would amend to constitution to require that the federal budget be balanced every year, forcing spending cuts and tax hikes.
Balanced budget amendment: 178 members voting no