As Bill de Blasio comes to the U.S. Capitol with a plan to address income inequality, the tactic’s champion has advice: Put meat on the bones.
New York’s mayor intends to release a “Progressive Agenda” on Tuesday in Washington, a Democratic rendition of the “Contract with America” that former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich offered in 1994. The difference, Gingrich said, is that he proposed actual legislation, not just broad ideas. He also said voters repudiated ideas similar to de Blasio’s just last week, when Conservatives defeated the Labour Party in the U.K.
“They can’t put together a majority that’s willing to do something real,” Gingrich said in a telephone interview. “They can get a lot of intensity among their faction, but that’s not the same as trying to get something actually written into law.”
De Blasio, 53, has cast himself as a “national convener,” inveighing against tax breaks for corporations and attacks on unions. On Tuesday, he joins U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, to introduce a report on inequality from economist Joseph Stiglitz. Then, he will gather with elected officials, labor leaders and activists at the Capitol to unveil his agenda -- just as Gingrich did in 1994 -- that he wants to shape the 2016 presidential race.
The 13-point proposal, which grew out of a meeting that de Blasio convened April 2 at Gracie Mansion, the Manhattan mayoral residence, promotes tax and policy changes to help working people and expand the middle class, according to a draft invitation to the event.
It calls for raising the federal minimum wage to reach $15 an hour from $7.25 now, and linking it to inflation. The plan also advocates enhancing workers’ right to organize and opposes trade deals “that hand more power to corporations at the expense of American jobs, workers’ rights and the environment.”
There are proposals to pass national paid sick and family leave; make pre-kindergarten, after-school and childcare programs universal; expand the earned income tax credit; and allow refinancing of student-loan debt. The “tax fairness” proposals include closing the so-called carried interest provision, which lets hedge-fund and private-equity managers reduce their taxes.
Gingrich’s economic policies helped create income inequality, said John Del Cecato, de Blasio’s media strategist.
“Newt Gingrich’s brand of trickle-down economics was a central driver of the income inequality that Americans face today -- showering tax breaks on big corporations and the rich, while leaving everybody else behind,” he said in an e-mail. “We’re offering progressive solutions to cleaning up the mess.”
Van Jones, a CNN contributor and former Obama administration adviser who attended the April 2 meeting in New York, said de Blasio is the man to lead the charge.
“Americans consider the mayor of the nation’s biggest city everyone’s mayor, so when de Blasio takes on an issue, the public pays attention,” said Jones. “When we faced the 9/11 security emergency, former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani stepped up. Now we have an economic emergency and another New York mayor is stepping up.”
It remains a question whether Americans will respond to the document’s populism. Labour Party leader Ed Miliband, who resigned after his party’s drubbing, had campaigned “for a Britain where we reward the hard work of every working person, not just those that get the six-figure bonuses.”
Still, a contract could be an effective tactic for spreading those ideas, said David Axelrod, a former senior adviser to President Barack Obama who advised Miliband.
“There are dangers of being too dogmatic about it,” Axelrod said in a telephone interview. “On the other hand, the Gingrich contract, for all we derided it as Democrats, came in the midst of what would be a historically good Republican year.”
De Blasio, who managed Hillary Clinton’s 2000 campaign to become a U.S. senator from New York, has been criticized by some Democrats for declining to endorse her 2016 presidential candidacy until hearing more about her specific proposals.
An e-mail message to Clinton’s campaign seeking comment about de Blasio’s contract wasn’t returned.
While the Democratic Party and its nominee may not unify on every detail, there likely won’t be much difference on the major issues, Axelrod said.
“There’ll be a coming together,” he said. “It may not be on every point, but on the main argument, I think there’s not going to be a whole lot of debate.”