Robert B. Reich: What to expect of House Democrats
By Robert B. Reich
Jan 09, 2019 | 6:00 AM
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez didn't even flinch when asked if President Trump is racist. But she's not the first person to accuse the Commander in Chief of being a bigot.
Democrats are now in control of the House of Representatives, under Speaker Nancy Pelosi. After two years of Republican control over both chambers of Congress and the presidency, some balance has been restored to our democracy.
I know and have worked with many members of the 116th Congress. They are people of integrity who will strive to do what's right for America. Nancy Pelosi is tough and courageous. Were it not for her insistence, Barack Obama would not have pushed for the Affordable Care Act.
But they are not miracle workers. Republicans still control the Senate, Donald Trump is still the president, and there is still a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
House Democrats will make life harder for Mr. Trump, to be sure. They will investigate. They have the power to subpoena witnesses and documents. The House Ways and Means Committee is specifically authorized to subpoena Mr. Trump's tax returns.
They might even move to impeach Mr. Trump, if Robert Mueller reports what I expect him to.
They will also stop bad laws coming from the Senate -- cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, and food stamps for the poor.
But they will do little to slow or reverse the growing imbalance of wealth and power in this country -- unless they are pushed to do so.
Do not ever underestimate the influence of Wall Street Democrats, corporate Democrats and the Democrats' biggest funders. I know. I've been there.
In the 2018 midterms, big business made more contributions to Democrats than to Republicans. The shift was particularly noticeable on Wall Street. Not since 2008 have donors in the securities and investment industry given a higher percentage to Democratic candidates and party committees than to Republicans.
The moneyed interests in the Democratic Party are in favor of helping America's poor and of reversing climate change -- two positions that sharply distinguish them from the moneyed interests in the Republican Party.
But the Democrats' moneyed interests don't want more powerful labor unions. They are not in favor of stronger antitrust enforcement against large corporations. They resist firmer regulation of Wall Street. They are unlikely to want to repeal the Trump/Republican tax cut for big corporations and the wealthy.
They are also concerned about the federal debt -- more so even than the Republican moneyed interests, who see a large debt as leverage to cut popular programs such as Medicare.
This is presumably why Ms. Pelosi included among the House's first votes the fiscally conservative "pay-go" measure requiring all new spending to be offset by budget cuts or tax hikes.
Nor is the Democratic Party's big money especially interested in campaign finance reform -- measures such as matching public funding with small donations and disclosing all sources of campaign funding. After all, these measures would reduce their influence.
When it comes to impeaching Mr. Trump, some of the Democrats' biggest funders are wary that such a move might rile markets. They are counseling Democratic leadership to be cautious even on smaller acts of defiance such as subpoenaing Mr. Trump's tax returns.
In other words, Wall Street and corporate Democrats don't share precisely the same goals as do Democrats at the grassroots level who worked hard to create the "Blue Wave" that put Democrats in control of the House.
During my 50 years in and around politics, I've found that nothing good happens in Washington unless good people outside Washington are organized and mobilized to make it happen. This is more the case today than ever.
We should support Ms. Pelosi and the Democrats when they need our support to do the right things. We also need to push them when they need pushing. And we must fight them when they begin to cave.
We must be unwavering in our commitment to strengthening our democracy and creating an economy that works for all, not just for the privileged few. Addressing these issues requires a bold agenda.