The progressive agenda for 2016 : Much more spending, much less trade

It’s well-known that many liberal Democrats are deeply disturbed by the likelihood that Hillary Clinton will be their party’s presidential nominee in 2016. It’s also no secret that those progressives who refuse to support Clinton in her mission to become her party’s presidential standard-bearer are in the minority. And it’s not even an especially sizable one.

2016 dems

Despite their unimpressive numbers, many members of this vocal minority have access to a booming microphone. It’s that condition that leads New York City’s mayor, a politician who has only occupied his office for just 16 months and who only served as the city’s “public advocate” prior to that, to deliver fiery progressive stem-winders before rapt audiences of far-left liberals in Iowa. It is this condition that has forced Hillary Clinton to pen an obsequious and fawning endorsement of all that Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) stands for, even though the progressive icon has held elected office for little more than two years.

The progressive left’s sense of importance is disproportionate to their place within the Democratic coalition, but that doesn’t stop mainstream Democrats from pandering furiously to their demands. And, boy, do they have demands.

The Atlantic’s Russell Berman identified just a handful of items on the progressive wish list, and he noted that liberal activists (with the support of well-placed and influential figures within the party) are demanding the Clinton embrace them.

Progressives have a few such priorities in mind. First, they want Clinton to embrace an expansion of Social Security benefits. It’s an idea that seemed unthinkable during the period of fiscal austerity from which Congress has slowly been emerging, but it has gained steam among Democrats in recent months. Championed both by Warren and by the significantly more conservative Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the proposal earned support from all but two Senate Democrats when it came up during last month’s budget vote-a-rama. “She says her focus is on economic security. There’s no question Social Security is a key part of economic security,” said Nancy Altman, co-director of an advocacy group dedicated to boosting the public-pension system. “So it’s hard to understand why she wouldn’t do it.”

Liberals are also pushing Clinton to back a national goal of debt-free college at public universities, either through huge increases in federal aid to states or in grants made directly to students. Both ideas seem unlikely, given that Republicans are likely to still control one or both chambers of Congress in 2017, when the next president takes office. Yet the test for Clinton, as some activists view it, is not so much the conventional question of whether she will tack left or right during the campaign, but whether she will shed the cautious approach to politics many of them have found so frustrating. “I don’t think the debate within the Clinton campaign or nationally will be about going left or going right. It will be more about going big versus going small,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, a group that has backed Warren but was not part of the organized movement to draft her into the presidential race. The PCCC launched a “Ready for Boldness” campaign within hours of Clinton’s announcement on Sunday, and another coalition of progressive groups mounted a similar push to get the former New York senator to adopt a populist agenda on Wednesday.

Perhaps fearing that another young lion could emerge from the wings to again scuttle her presidential ambitions, the former secretary of state has largely humored her left flank. She recently embraced same-sex marriage as a constitutional right, a position she was firmly against just 25 months ago. She also announced her support for providing illegal immigrants with drivers licenses, which observers couldn’t help but notice was another flip-flop. Whether Clinton pursues the policies outlined in The Atlantic as president is a subject of some speculation, but she seems inclined to tell progressives what they want to hear.

And what they want to hear is the progressive agenda from time immemorial: More spending, more regulation, and more federal oversight. And this spending will be exclusively paid for through retributive and redistributive taxes on high-income earners and corporations. These proposals certainly will not be paid for as a result for expanded economic growth. On the matter of expanding commerce, liberal Democrats are ready to go to war with even President Barack Obama over what they regard as his laissez-faire approach to trade.

Congressional lawmakers reached an agreement on Thursday that would provide the president with trade promotion authority, a power that the liberal wing of the president’s party strongly opposes. The bipartisan deal between Sens. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) is expected to pass, but not before the likes of Warren and her supporters try to demagogue it to death.

“Are you ready to fight any more deals that say ‘we’re going to help the rich get richer and leave everybody else behind’?,” she asked to roars of approval from hundreds of steelworkers and other union members. “Workers have to fight back. I’m proud to be with you and I’m going to be with you all the way.”

The former Harvard Law School professor is a relative newcomer to the fight led by progressive Democrats like Rep. Rosa DeLauro in the House. But many hope the Massachusetts senator’s emergence as a leader of her party’s liberal wing will put pressure on prominent Democrats — including presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — to take a stand on controversial areas of Obama’s trade agenda, including the fast-track bill.

Warren’s vocal opposition to fast track stands in stark contrast to Clinton’s silence on the issue and the former secretary of state’s advocacy for Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership pact.

Couple this with the progressive wing’s commitment to stifling growth in the name of environmental justice wherever they can, and you have the liberal economic agenda in 2016: More spending, more taxes, and stagnant growth. It sounds like a winner.