The New Democrats, the self-described “pragmatic” caucus that includes close to 100 House members, is introducing a new economic agenda, hoping to build on a string of recent good news on inflation, jobs, and wages.
New Democrat Coalition’s 22-page plan, “The Economic Opportunity Agenda,” shared exclusively with Semafor, includes eight key issues where members hope to “lower costs, fight inflation, and grow the middle class” in the current Congress and beyond.
The New Democrats are always worth watching in part because they include numerous frontliners facing tough re-election campaigns as well as DCCC chair Suzan DelBene. They also tend to be closely in sync with the White House, which is rolling out its own campaign to sell “Bidenomics” ahead of the 2024 election. There’s a good chance that the themes the New Dems hit on could inform both campaign platforms in the districts that determine the majority next year as well as the substantive policy agenda in 2025 if Democrats win control of government.
So what’s on their mind right now? Much of the focus is on implementing legislation that’s already passed, especially the CHIPS and Science Act, Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and Inflation Reduction Act.
A top priority is finding and developing workers to carry out the goals of the laws. The list includes a variety of bills aimed at creating or testing new training programs for STEM workers, nurses, rural physicians, as well as a bill on tax incentives, introduced by Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., the chair of New Democrat Coalition, to foster partnerships between businesses, community colleges, and apprenticeships.
“We need to make sure that we have a smooth path for job training through apprenticeship with Unions and job training at the community college level,” Kuster, told Semafor. “As we bring manufacturing back, stateside to American communities, we need to beef up those training programs so that people can get the skills they need to work.”
The plan also includes calls for continued talks on permitting reform to make it easier to build infrastructure and especially energy projects like transmission lines tied to the above laws. The document notes the New Dems backed the smaller permitting measures included in the recent budget deal with Republicans that raised the debt ceiling.
But the plan also points to areas where Democrats see future fights ahead, including affordable housing, health care, and immigration. The plan calls for extending Affordable Care Act subsidies that are set to expire in 2025 and whose fate may be decided by the next election.
With housing costs increasingly a political concern, especially in blue states like California, the New Dem plan calls for reforming “prohibitive zoning,” aligning the caucus with the “YIMBY” movement and efforts to make it easier to build multi-family homes and link neighborhoods to public transportation. Some related legislation is bipartisan: the “Affordable Housing Credit Improvement Act,” for example, has support from a mix of moderate and conservative Republicans.
One early chance to advocate for their agenda will be the upcoming Farm Bill reauthorization. The plan calls for boosting the formula for determining SNAP benefits to match the recent spike in inflation, among other items. It also urges the administration to spur competition in food production, processing and distribution sectors to reduce prices.
But the overall picture is broadly similar in spirit to Biden’s first two years in office: Some big-ticket swings that are unlikely to draw Republican support, like fixing Obamacare’s Medicaid gap or renewing the American Rescue Plan’s child tax credits, but also plenty of emphasis on finding areas where there might be a chance to cut a deal.
“We believe that between Democrats and thoughtful Republicans in the Senate and Democrats in the House that he will be able to move legislation that does not cater to these culture wars and extremists in the Republican Party in the House,” Kuster said.
Room for Disagreement
Republicans have accused Democrats of worsening inflation by pumping too much money into the economy early in Biden’s presidency and the plan includes some of his most expensive initiatives, including restarting the expanded child tax credit. House Republicans have also tried to repeal some of the climate and energy-related tax credits the New Dems hope to build on, with Speaker Kevin McCarthy deriding them as “green giveaways that distort the market.”