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House Democrats: Will it Be Governance or Gridlock?



Following their decisive takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives last Tuesday, Democrats have begun discussing what the next two years may look like. They are going to have some tough choices to make, and their voters are going to have to give them some leeway.

First, President Donald Trump wants to make deals. Now that Democrats have the upper hand legislatively, there are some issues they and the president can probably negotiate, and put the GOP on the defensive in doing so.

Take health care, for example. Trump has said on the campaign trail that he wants to protect Medicare and Medicaid. In the past, he’s even expressed support for universal health care coverage.

Thus, Democrats have leverage on this issue and should vote on a Medicare for All bill, or at least the creation of a public option to compete with the private market, on day one. Call it Trumpcare, even. Whatever. Public opinion aligns with Democrats on this issue.

A Reuters poll published in August showed that 70 percent of Americans support Medicare for all. That majority includes an impressive 52 percent of Republicans and a whopping 85 percent of Democrats.

Force Trump to make a deal, or at the very least, force Senate Republicans into a corner.

Meanwhile, on immigration, all hope is not lost. Democrats can put forth legislation that strengthens border security and streamlines applications and background checks, making legal entry more efficient.

Remember DACA? A Harvard CAPS-Harris survey in February found that 76 percent of Americans – including 63 percent of Republicans – favor a path to citizenship for DACA recipients. A similar Gallup poll in June boosted support for DACA to 83 percent.

That same poll also found that a majority of the country – 79 percent – supports strengthening border security. So, there is a pretty wide middle ground here.

The previously mentioned Gallup poll found that 57 percent of Americans oppose Trump’s proposed wall. Thus, under no circumstances should Democrats fund the President’s project.

Democrats can also play their upper hand on taxes. The Tax Cuts & Jobs Act of 2017 is deeply unpopular. Surveys over the summer found support for the deficit-swelling gift to top earners to be south of 40 percent.

“Only 25 percent of voters said they had noticed an increase in their paychecks as a result of the law, while 52 percent said they hadn’t,” Politico noted in June.  In the April poll, 22 percent said they had seen an increase and 55 percent said they hadn’t.”

Immediately, Democrats should draft a bill giving the middle class a permanent tax cut while simultaneously repealing the insane breaks given to the wealthiest few and corporate giants.

No more tax cuts for the rich.

And remember, spending bills originate in the House. This too gives Democrats a substantial advantage.

Even broad steps toward marijuana legalization could be on the table. This past summer, Trump expressed support for a bill put forth by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Cory Gardner (R-CO) that would bolster the rights of states to legalize pot without having to worry about the federal government stepping in and prosecuting people.

“It means right now that, for example, in Colorado, and soon in Massachusetts, someone who buys marijuana, someone who sells marijuana, is complying with state law, but they are in violation of federal law,” Warren said of the bill. “And that puts them at risk.”

Although thirty states and Washington, D.C. have legalized pot for medical or recreational use, the plant remains a Schedule I drug at the federal level.

Gardner said at the time that the bill “allows the principle of federalism to prevail as the founding fathers intended and leaves the marijuana question up to the states.”

“We’re looking at it,” the president said of the proposal. “But I probably will end up supporting that, yes.”

Here is the key: Democratic voters have to be willing to let their party govern, or at least try to do so. Yes, there will be investigations and subpoenas. Yes, Trump will bellow and bluster over who is better at “the game,” and yes, we are going to have to accept that governing is more important than temporary power.

Trump is, at his core, a salesman. He cares about slapping his name across big things without much concern for detail. He needs Democrats if he wants to get anything done in the remainder of his first term. Democrats: Use that. Hold him accountable.

All of this, however, could be overshadowed in the unending drama of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia, which in the wake of the firing of Attorney General Jeff Sessions may get its wings clipped.

If Mueller and whatever truths he uncovers are sidelined by the Justice Department, the Democratic House can and should use its authority to give Mueller the resources he needs, regardless of the potential political risks. And if turns out the president committed crimes, he should be impeached.

The left certainly has an uphill battle to fight. Come 2020, if the zeitgeist is gridlock or in disarray over a failed attempt at impeachment, Trump will win reelection. The specter of obstruction is ammunition for Republicans. The Democrats’ best chance for success, and conversely their most obvious path toward failure, is themselves.