Democrats have a decent chance of winning the presidency and Senate in November. They have a smaller, but far from zero, chance of taking back the House. But so far, the party hasn’t offered much indication of what legislation they might pass if they actually found themselves in a position to do so.
And the Democratic National Convention hasn’t offered much clarity so far. On Tuesday, both Sen. Chuck Schumer and Rep. Nancy Pelosi — who would lead the Senate and House, respectively, in the event of a Democratic victory — gave speeches that offered little more than vague hints of what the party’s legislative agenda might look like.
To be sure, conventions are mostly a pep rally for the party and the nominee, not a place to roll out a detailed agenda. Still, the question remains: The party’s convention has broadly revolved around certain ideas and themes like greater social and economic justice, but there’s little consensus on how to achieve them — or where a Democratic Congress might even start.
At the convention, congressional Democrats offered a wish list, not an agenda
Schumer’s convention speech mostly focused on the Supreme Court — if Clinton wins the White House and Democrats take back the Senate, they could confirm a justice “who will protect women’s rights, voting rights, and undo that awful decision, Citizens United.”
Going too far beyond that would likely require Democrats to also take back the House by picking up 30 seats — which looks unlikely, but not impossible right now. Still, no one even seems prepared for that possibility at this point.
“Without the unifying presence of Mr. Obama in the White House, or the organizing aim of expanding health care, it is unclear who will hold the party together and what will be the next great project of liberalism,” the New York Times’s Jonathan Martin wrote on Saturday.
We certainly know what issues they’d consider: In his speech, Schumer offered a laundry list of Democratic priorities, including a higher minimum wage, equal pay, comprehensive immigration reform, affordable college, and changes to trade policy. Similarly, a variety of Democratic women from the House of Representatives got up and rattled off a list of things the party favors: Social Security, innovation, abortion rights, infrastructure spending, affordable college, gun control, and so forth.
Likewise, earlier this month Democratic House candidates rolled out a platform called “Stronger America: A New American Security Agenda,” which included 14 separate points grouped under six headers, from fighting online Islamic radicalization to expanding Social Security.
Still, passing legislation requires a little more focus than an expansive laundry list. In 2008, by contrast, Democrats had clearly prioritized health care reform and cap-and-trade climate legislation in the event that Obama took the White House — both of which they pursued in 2009-’10. (The financial crisis later forced economic stimulus and financial reform on the agenda.)
Even Republicans have a blueprint: House Majority Leader Paul Ryan’s budget. Donald Trump’s near-exclusive focus on crime and immigration also strongly suggests that greater immigration restrictions would be at the top of his list.
Democrats’ public pronouncements, on the other hand, suggest it’s not that they don’t have a plan — it’s that they don’t know where to start.