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Democrats in Congress Need to Go Bolder, Not Backwards

The just unveiled “Better Deal” agenda features a job-training proposal that demands less from CEOs than the job-training proposal Bill Clinton ran on.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi answers questions with US Sen. Bernie Sanders, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Rep. John Yarmouth during a press conference at the US Capitol May 23, 2017, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Win McNamee / Getty Images)

The Democratic Party’s congressional leadership has just unveiled a new slogan — and set of policy proposals — to help the party prep for the 2018 midterm elections ­­­

The slogan — “A Better Deal” — has underwhelmed just about everyone outside of the Democratic Party’s congressional leadership. The actual policy piece has fared only a little bit better.

This policy piece includes three initial specific policy prescriptions, and all three arguably take “the side of working people,” the goal the Senate’s top Democrat, New York’s Chuck Schumer, has spelled out for the “Better Deal” effort. Average Americans would without question be better off if Congress made pharmaceuticals cheaper, expanded on-the-job training, and cracked down on corporate mergers that pad the pockets of investors and raise prices for everyone else.

Few Americans are going to oppose policies like these. But the release of the “Better Deal” seems to have few Americans up and cheering either. One media outlet has already dubbed the new policy set’s launch a “box-office dud.”

Why so little enthusiasm around this “Better Deal”? The timidity of the package may be one reason. Take the “Better Deal” position on job-training, for instance. The “Better Deal” plan proposes tax credits for businesses that create new training opportunities. Nothing particularly exciting here.

In fact, Democrats a quarter-century ago campaigned on a much bolder approach to job training. In 1992, Bill Clinton ran for President on a policy platform — “Putting People First” — that proposed making companies that employ over 50 people spend at least 1.5 percent of their payroll on training.

Clinton, once elected, never made much of a move to advance the “Putting People First” agenda into law. That left the political momentum with right-wingers. They derided ideas like the job-training mandate as “absurd.” Businesses don’t need regulatory mandates to do the right thing, as the conservative Chicago Tribune argued. “Farsighted companies,” the paper went on, will spend more on worker job training and prosper. “Shortsighted companies” will spend less and fail.

That smug, right-wing line prevailed, and today, 25 years later, the absurdity of this conservative stance could hardly be plainer. “Farsighted companies” seem to have largely vanished off the US corporate scene. “Shortsighted companies” — those that underinvest in the job training and R & D that leave corporations more productive — now dominate Corporate America.