America is already a great country: our challenge is to make its greatness apply fairly and equitably to all of its people. As the only member of elected leadership from a red state and largely rural district, I will work tirelessly to be a voice for the millions of Americans who feel left out and communities that are too often left behind.” — Newly-elected House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn
The pending Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives marks a major turning point, perhaps far more significant than most Americans realize. For the last two years, the current administration has careened, unchecked, through a series of misguided policy mishaps, from family separations at the border to emboldening White nationalists and neo-Nazis, and mangling the response to Hurricane Maria.
The administration’s signature achievement, a massive tax shift to benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans, serves only to worsen income inequality and explode the federal deficit.
The clear mission of the incoming Congress is not only to put a halt to the administration’s misguided agenda but to advance an agenda aimed at reducing inequality, expanding opportunity and enforcing civil rights and racial justice.
An encouraging sign that the Democratic majority does intend to advance such an agenda was the unveiling of a legislative package — known as H.B. 1, to emphasize its importance — reforming the nation’s political processes.
The bill includes new donor disclosure requirements for political organizations, public financing for political campaigns, a mandatory Supreme Court ethical code, expansion of access to the polls and a reduction of partisan gerrymandering.
We believe H.B. 1 is a good start. Among the other issues the incoming House majority must address on Day 1 are: increasing the federal minimum wage and indexing it to inflation, strengthening and restoring the Affordable Care Act, a comprehensive and targeted infrastructure bill and protection for “Dreamers” — young immigrants covered by Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).
The most significant and impactful initiatives the new House majority could adopt, which includes much of the above, can be found in the National Urban League’s Main Street Marshall Plan, a comprehensive blueprint addressing lack of opportunity and economic inequality in America’s urban communities.
Elements of the Main Street Marshall Plan were introduced as part of a major legislative proposal introduced by members of the Congressional Black Caucus earlier this year.
The Congressional Black Caucus’ Jobs and Justice Act includes Main Street Marshall Plan proposals addressing investment in public schools and infrastructure, a living wage for all Americans, restorative justice for ex-offenders, and tax incentives for hiring young people, veterans, and the unemployed.
It’s significant that the incoming Congress is the most racially and culturally diverse in history, including first Native American congresswomen and the first Muslim congresswomen. The practical effect of such diversity is that Congress can more truly represent the interests of all its citizens — not just the wealthy, White men who still make up its largest contingent.
In an open letter to her colleagues, incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi wrote, “It is my hope that as we deliver on our For The People agenda — lower health costs, higher wages by rebuilding America and restoring integrity in government — we do so in a way that will address economic disparity in this Country. This Freshman Class has also made integrity in government its priority, supporting H.R. 1, in our Better Deal for Our Democracy. As Justice Brandeis said, ‘We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.’”
We look forward to working with Rep. Pelosi and her colleagues on both sides of the aisle to restore integrity to government and create economic, educational and social opportunity for all Americans.
Morial is president of the National Urban League.