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Democrats have a golden opportunity to update the Contract With America


Sunday, December 31, 2017

In 1994, Newt Gingrich's "Contract With America" included such goodies as "a balanced budget/tax limitation amendment and a legislative line-item veto to restore fiscal responsibility to an out-of-control Congress, requiring them to live under the same budget constraints as families and businesses."

Well, times have changed, haven't they? However, the contract that Gingrich came up with — a mix of process pledges ("Require committee meetings to be open to the public" — another grand idea Republicans now shun) and policy nostrums (fiscal responsibility, tax relief for small businesses, child tax credits) helped nationalize the election and deliver the House majority to Republicans.

To a large extent, President Donald Trump has already nationalized the midterms, giving Democrats a common theme and rallying cry. But the notion of a succinct, punchy contract is not a bad one.

On the process side, let me suggest:

1. No votes on budgetary items without a Congressional Budget Office scoring of the final version and a period of 72 hours for consideration.

2. Regular order. Period. No secret committees. No drafting behind closed doors. Hearings with witnesses over a substantial period of time should be required for major legislation.

3. Return the filibuster for Supreme Court justices and circuit court judges to prevent extreme and unqualified nominees from reaching the bench.

4. Apply executive branch conflict-of-interest rules to the president and vice president.

5. Members of Congress do not get use of the tax breaks they voted for until a new Congress is voted into office.

6. No more hiding from the voters. Members should pledge to hold regular town halls and be accessible at regular intervals to meet with constituents.

7. No more use of taxpayer money to pay for harassment or discrimination claims. Names of members of Congress who settled need to be released. No more nondisclosure agreements to settle such claims in the future.

8. Provide a public forum for those claiming to have been sexually abused by high government officials (before or after taking office).

9. No stock transactions in any industry in which members of Congress exercise oversight.

10. Hold hearings and enforce the Constitution's emoluments clause.

As for the substantive points, Democrats will have disputes among themselves, but certain agreed-upon items should unify them and prove popular beyond the party:

1. Repeal the tax plan items aimed at the rich (e.g. reducing the top bracket).

2. Support a robust infrastructure plan.

3. Pass the bipartisan bill to bolster the exchanges (e.g. Alexander-Murray) and subsidize states' high-risk pools (e.g. Collins-Nelson). (House Republicans would deny a vote on these items, snubbing Sen. Susan Collins of Maine.)

4. Support a resolution making clear that a first strike on North Korea amounts to an act of war, for which a vote of Congress is needed.

5. Pass a fix to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy.

6. Close down the phony electoral integrity commission. Support state efforts to make voting easier (e.g. automatic registration, vote by mail).

7. Repeal the 2011 Budget Control Act (which has squeezed defense and popular domestic programs while allowing the debt to balloon).

8. Require shell companies to disclose their owners, similar to a measure the United Kingdom enacted to halt the laundering of kleptocrats' money.

Democrats have a golden opportunity to take back the House and, perhaps, the Senate. In addition to solid candidates and voter engagement, they could use some smart marketing. A updated Contract With America would provide the perfect mechanism, with an extra dollop of irony.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.


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