Single payer healthcare? The end of the Hyde Amendment? With a nation still struggling to regain its footing after a long recession, and a new generation saddled with debt and lacking job opportunities, 2015 would be an amazing time to pass some real legislation that could decrease the gap between the rich and poor and the have and have-nots. Sadly, with a new, even more conservative Congress to be sworn in this January, the odds of that happening are pretty slim. Still, if we had a wish list to consider, these are the top 10 progressive policies we’d love to see happen in 2015 (although they probably don’t have a shot).
10) Campaign reform. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have your vote count as much as big business and other special interest groups? Thanks to Citizens United, that is never going to happen. SuperPacs can flood the airwaves just before Election Day, and major donors can bundle huge fortunes into shadow campaigns to attack candidates. What could make this better? A limit on outside funds, a ban on “issue” based c4 spending and even a rule on how much money each campaign can spend per election cycle, rather than rules on how much a person can donate to a candidate like we currently have.
9) Expanded early childhood eduction. Can we please, please invest in early childhood education? Allowing parents to send children to all day programs frees them up to return to work, greatly reduces monthly expenses, and puts early childhood educators to work with new jobs. If we can’t actually have free all day preschool, at the very least it would help everyone to bring back state and federal subsidies for daycare for low-income families. Sadly, even that is probably too much to hope for from a GOP-dominated Congress.
8) Extended unemployment insurance. Sure, the jobless rate is far lower than it has been in the last decade, but that doesn’t actually mean a good job market. The good jobs — those that pay a decent wage and have benefits — are still few and far between. But unemployment payments aren’t recognizing that fact and end far earlier than they did during the recession itself, forcing workers to scramble for any job they can get, or being unable to support their families. Bringing back extended unemployment payments could make the difference for those who are trying to get a real job, not just a job.
7) Ending Hyde. Birth control is more accessible than ever if you have insurance, but too many women don’t, and can’t afford it. If you can’t afford birth control, affording a child is impossible, too, but so is obtaining an abortion. The Hyde amendment, which forbids Medicaid from paying for abortions in the majority of states in the country, makes poor women decide between paying the rent for a month and ending a pregnancy. Removing the amendment from the yearly appropriations bill is a measure of fairness and equality for women regardless of their economic status. Too bad it will never happen in this Congress.
6) Student loan reform. Student loan payments are crippling a new generation of workers, who are coming out of college with over $20,000 a piece in debt. Unlike any other type of debt, however, it can’t be removed in bankruptcy. At the very least, student loans should be discharged just like any other debt when a person declares bankruptcy. A more ambitious Congress could set a period in which a person has to pay and then the debt is gone, such as the plans to only force people to pay for 10 years and then forgive the remainder of the debt. None of this will happen in a Congress that is solidly in the pocket of big banks, though.
5) Housing reform. Speaking of paying debt over and over again, banks continue to cash in on those homeowners who are upside down on their homes. The housing market may have recovered, but many who bought their first homes at the top of the market are either still upside down or have no equity nearly a decade later, making it impossible for them to ever move. Homeowners who kept up with their payments while the banks got a big bail out should receive a payback of their own, such as a check for a portion of the difference between what their homes are worth now and what they bought them for, to reward them for following through on their commitments to their loans. After all, they were far more responsible than the banks were.
4) Living wages. Seeing the increases in minimum wage rates in states across the country is heartening, but a federal living wage increase would spurn everyone to finally make that move. Being paid fairly, and getting an hourly wage that a person can live on, shouldn’t be dependent on which state that person resides in. Throwing in five days of paid leave would be fantastic, too, but we aren’t holding our breath on either policy passing.
3) Single-payer medical insurance. Let’s be frank, the Affordable Care Act isn’t working as well as it should. Too many states refused Medicaid expansion in the hopes that they could make the policy fail. Out of pocket expenses are still high. Deductibles are still crippling for lower income earners, large families and anyone without a lot of extra cash on hand. Can we finally talk rationally about single payer healthcare? No, probably not in this Congress. Even worse, expanding Medicaid in the hold out states is probably not happening next cycle.
2) Increased inheritance tax. Are the above policy reforms expensive? Probably, although many would spur greater economic growth which would pay back in the end. There is one very simple way to pay for them all, though, and that would be by increasing the estate tax, which is currently set at a maximum of 40 percent for any estate worth more than $5 million. As families continue to create a legacy of massive wealth that they pass from generation to generation, money is literally being hoarded by the richest of families who actively do little to earn it. Create a new, top level on the estate tax that says any estate over $50 million is subject to a 75 percent tax, and we would have literal billions to invest in programs that benefit all Americans, not just the wealthiest.
1) Reformed voting rules. So why is voting at number 1? Because all of these progressive policies would be possible if we weren’t gerrymandering districts and creating more hurdles at the polls to ensure that less people — especially those who tend to vote for progressive politicians — are able to cast a vote. Voting rights are the most important right of Americans, since without them, they cannot have a voice in their own government. Yet since 2010, conservative lawmakers have made a concerted effort to ensure less, not more, people get to participate in that democratic right. Get back everyone’s voting rights, and everything else on the list will soon follow.