SF Chronicle: Democrats unveil ‘Better Deal’ agenda geared toward economy, jobs

Adopting a bolder populist message to take to voters in next year’s midterm elections, Democrats on Monday rolled out what they called a “Better Deal” economic agenda that attempts to unify the party around the concerns of working-class men and women.

They said their plan to “build an America in which working people know that somebody has their back” attempts to unite the party across the disparate racial, class and cultural divides that have fractured it in the past. In several areas, from a $1 trillion infrastructure proposal to a plan to force pharmaceutical companies to lower prescription drug prices, the plan is tailored to reclaim the populist mantle from President Trump, who embraced such ideas during his campaign for the White House.

“Democrats know a better deal for hardworking men and women demands bigger, braver thinking,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said as she and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer showcased the new agenda in Berryville, Va., a small town an hour outside Washington in a district held by a Republican they are targeting in next year’s election.

Pelosi and Schumer, the party’s top two officials, were joined for the rollout by liberal firebrand Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and more moderate Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Mark Warner of Virginia, as well as three House Democrats from widely diverse districts who are leading their party’s messaging and policy effort.

After a string of election losses left Democrats devoid of power in Washington, Pelosi, who represents San Francisco, and Schumer of New York acknowledged that Democrats need concrete proposals and a sharper message to persuade working-class voters to put them in charge. Simply running against Trump won’t do, they said.

Democrats lost the last two elections, Schumer said, because “the No.1 thing we did wrong is not present a strong, bold economic agenda to working Americans so that their hope for the future might return again.”

Trump, he said, “campaigned on a populist platform, talking to working people. That’s why he won. But as soon as he got into office, he abandoned them, making alliance with the powerful, special interest, Koch-brother-dominated, hard-right wing of the Republican Party, which appeals to the very wealthy, not the working people — leaving a vacuum on economic issues.”

The “Better Deal” agenda repackages several familiar Democratic proposals such as a $15 minimum wage and the infrastructure plan, while adding ideas like a big push for an apprenticeship program to help companies train workers who lack college degrees for available jobs.The strategy also calls for an attack on the monopolization of industries, including cable television and airlines, that Democrats charge has let “vulture capitalists” exploit market power.

The plan adopts former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ fiery rhetoric about a “rigged economy,” signaling that Democrats are abandoning the soft liberal centrism of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and embracing more of the hard-edge populism that lifted both Sanders and Trump in last year’s presidential race.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says, “Democrats know a better deal for hardworking men and women demands bigger, braver thinking” as her party presented its political agenda for next year’s midterm elections at a kickoff event in Berryville, Va., where Democrats plan to vie for a GOP House seat. Photo: Cliff Owen, Associated Press
Photo: Cliff Owen, Associated Press
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says, “Democrats know a better deal for hardworking men and women demands bigger, braver thinking” as her party presented its political agenda for next year’s midterm elections at a kickoff event in Berryville, Va., where Democrats plan to vie for a GOP House seat.

Doug Elmets, a Sacramento-based Republican political consultant who worked in the Reagan White House but opposed Trump’s candidacy, said Democrats are “promoting the very things Trump promised but has been unable to deliver.”

“While the Republicans are bogged down with a president who is more intent on settling scores with those in and out of his administration, the Democrats are seizing the opportunity to offer a jobs plan that will potentially resonate with voters in the midterm elections,” Elmets said.