A new Contract with America: economic equity, health care for all, integrated quality public schools, reduced military

During the heat of the 1994 mid-term elections some 23 years ago, Republican Congressional Representatives Newt Gingrich and Dick Armey rolled out their Contract with America, a pledge to pursue a conservative legislative agenda once the Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives. The Contract listed eight reforms the Republicans promised to enact and ten bills they promised to bring to the floor. The proposed legislation was typical conservative claptrap: require balanced budgets; institute harsher criminal sentences; end welfare; cut payments to the United Nations; and, as always, cut taxes on the wealthy. Interestingly enough, social conservatives did not seem to have a hand in the making of the contract, which was free of any anti-choice or other divisive social issues. After the Republicans wiped out the Democrats in November of 1994, they were able to pass some of the Contract’s proposal, but not all of it.

Despite its mixed success, the Contract with America was a significant symbolic victory for conservatives in their thirty-year war to install an economic and political regime that benefits the wealthy. The Contract set the stage for all political discussion until well into the Great Recession. Conservatives still espouse many of its false notions, such as the idea that tax breaks on the wealthy create more jobs. But most importantly, it has served as a proud and palpable symbol of conservative principles. Not so much anymore, but for years, Republicans would pledge to the Contract as a means to demonstrate their sincerity and commitment to the movement. The Contract became conservatism, as Marshall McLuhan predicted might occur when he said in the 1960’s that the medium was the message.

Since the election, I have been thinking a lot about the Contract with America. The Democrats should revive the idea and present a 21st Century Contract. By becoming a touchstone for Democratic candidates, a new Contract could establish the terms of public debate looking forward, especially in light of Trump’s splintering of Republican solidarity and the emergence of economic equity as an issue.

I’ve taken a hand at creating a first draft of a 21st century contract. It aggressively advances the idea of European democratic socialism, but it takes into account the views of all contemporary Democrats, except for those with heavy ties to the financial industry or who have forgotten the central importance of trade unions in creating a fair, just and equitable society. My contract addresses just about every issue facing Americans except the spiraling cost of higher education, although putting this contract into law will mitigate that problem to a large extent.

Here is the contract. I intend to send it to my Senators and Congressional representative and demand they make the pledge. I ask my gentle readers to follow suit.

THE NEW CONTRACT WITH AMERICA

If elected to office, I pledge aggressively to support legislation to:

  • Create a more equitable distribution of wealth and income.
  • Ensure that all Americans have the basics that all humans deserve, including education, health care and a secure retirement.
  • Create real opportunity for all people, regardless of race, religion, sex, beliefs or economic class by creating a level playing field.
  • Protect the environment for our children by mitigating the effects of climate change and transitioning to a sustainable economy and society.

To achieve these objectives, I will support the following specific legislative actions:

  1. Raise the minimum wage to $15/hour and remove all current exemptions, including for farm workers and interns.
  2. Remove the cap on income assessed the Social Security tax.
  3. Reform the federal income tax system to raise more revenue from the wealthy, who have gotten a free ride for three decades, as follows:
  • Increase the number of individual tax brackets and tax the highest bracket—income over $1.0 million—at 70%
  • End the lower capital gains tax except for investment in initial public offerings of stocks.
  • End the carried interest deduction.
  • Increase the federal tax on gasoline by one dollar and earmark 75% of it to the development of rail-based mass transit within and between cities and the rest to maintenance of highways, bridges and sewers.
  1. Replace the exchanges for individual health insurance with Medicare coverage (the so-called public option) for anyone lacking health insurance coverage through work or Medicaid.
  2. Replace district public school funding with statewide funding that provides all public schools with the same amount per student and redistrict schools to promote integration.
  3. Pass a new omnibus Civil Rights law which explicitly protects the rights of LGBTQ people; gives ex-cons the right to vote; ends Jim Crow sentencing laws; directs all states wishing to receive any federal funds to extend voting hours and end voter ID laws; and mandates equal pay for women and minorities for the same job with the same experience.
  4. Outlaw state right-to-work laws and all charter schools run by for-profit organizations or that hire non-union staff when the local public school is unionized.
  5. Give legal citizenship to all “dreamers” immediately and create a path to citizenship that takes no longer than five years to any undocumented immigrant who can prove residency before 2016.
  6. End all federal and state subsidies for oil & gas exploration and production and nuclear electricity generation and redirect the funds to supporting the development of wind and solar energy and technologies for cleaning up the environment.
  7. Cut the military budget to $400 billion a year and end all funds for the development of newer nuclear weapons or automated (robot) weapons.
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