What the Democrats plan to do if they take over the House

An ambitious agenda that includes shoring up health care, financial regulation, and natural resources oversight

By Terry H. Schwadron
Published October 17, 2018 7:55PM (EDT)

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Even as Trump was whipping up about 9,000 at an Iowa rally with cries that Democrats are an “angry mob” intent on “policies of anger, division and destruction,” actual Democrats in Washington are thinking through what will happen if they actually do flip the currently Republican-majority House in November.

There was something very odd about the juxtaposition. “You don’t hand matches to an arsonist and you don’t give power to an angry left-wing mob, and that’s what the Democrats are,” Trump said. In an op-ed for USA Today, Trump argued, for example, that the plan would threaten seniors and represented “radical socialism.”

You’ve got to squirm at the constantly more pointed language marking our political races.

Meanwhile, TheHill.com went about a very sober journalistic task about the agenda for a potential Democratic-majority future. Their reporters actually asked those who would be incoming House committee chairs what they actually want to do.

The most amazing thing you learn is that Democrats might actually take a 10-minute break from fund-raising to pay attention instead to matters of governing. That said, the ambitious agenda for seeking legislation to address items of governance and budget that have gone unaddressed includes a healthy dose of closer questioning of Trump officials.

After eight years in the minority, Democrats want a wide variety of bills, from shoring up Obamacare and Dodd-Frank financial rules to protecting “Dreamers” and the integrity of elections. Of course, the likelihood is that even if the House turns blue, the Senate will hold its Republican majority, meaning that none of these bills have a hope of becoming law.

Nevertheless, it is good to see a different view of why we even have a federal government. Under Trump and Republican leadership, the clear outline has been to shrink social services, build up the military, offer tax cuts built for a smaller version of government and to vastly reduce regulation to let corporations and entrepreneurs flourish.

Of course, Democrats also are vowing to be aggressive in investigating the actions of the Trump administration—an oversight role Democrats contend was virtually abandoned by Republicans.

Here’s a summary of The Hill’s findings by committee:

Appropriations. Rep. Nita Lowey (N.Y.) would focus efforts on increasing support for social service programs, including a labor-health spending bill with a $1 billion increase over 2018 levels for medical research, maternity care, home-heating subsidies, nutrition and education programs and funding to fight the opioid crisis. Lowey said an aim would be to reinstate a system of passing the various spending bills separately.

Armed Services. Rep. Adam Smith (Wash.) would seek to revisit particular initiatives, including the spending to overhaul nuclear weapons. Smith said deployment of special forces would be a primary interest, particularly operations in Africa and other hotspots. And he would revisit a ban on transgender people in the military.

Budget. Rep. John Yarmuth (Ky.) wants to expand the scope of the panel to include overarching assessments of how specific issues, in the broadest terms, impact the federal budget. That means new attention on the impact of tax cuts, immigration, health care and climate change.

Energy and Commerce. The priority for Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (N.J.) is health care and shoring up what has been cut in Obamacare, a target clearly opposed by the president and Republicans. He proposes action on reducing drug costs, elimination on income caps on tax credits and limitations on rising Medicare payments for drugs. The committee also would take a bigger oversight role toward energy issues.

Financial Services. Rep. Maxine Waters (Calif.), a fierce Trump critic, is in line to take on a consumerist agenda that has been set aside by Republicans, including a lot of oversight investigation. Democrats also want to bolster Dodd-Frank restrictions on Wall Street as well as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the federal flood insurance program.

Homeland Security. Rep. Bennie Thompson (Miss.) wants the committee to conduct deep dives into election security, Trump’s travel ban, the administration’s uneven response to Hurricane Maria and the screening methods adopted by the Transportation Security Administration. He would lead the questioning of enforcement on the southern border as well as policies allowing family separations and the Wall.

Intelligence. It is easy to see Rep. Adam Schiff (Calif.) going hard after the special counsel investigation, possibly opening an examination of Russia’s potential financial ties to Trump’s global business empire.

Judiciary. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (N.Y.) outlines a busy program of questioning policies affecting immigration, guns, voting rights and, of course, impeachment. Nadler has lashed out at the administration for refusing to defend certain Obamacare insurance protections from outside lawsuits; for separating immigrant families at the southern border; for backing the National Rifle Association in opposition to tougher gun laws; and for defending states that have adopted tougher voting restrictions.

Natural Resources. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.) hopes to revisit the Democrats’ upset over environmental issues by serious questioning of policies and actions by Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke on climate change, oil drilling, shrinking national monuments and selling off mineral rights. He would seek to strengthen the Endangered Species Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

Oversight and Government Reform. Rep. Elijah Cummings (Md.) wants investigations of all sorts—voting rights; elimination of pre-existing conditions in health care; and attacks on the FBI, the media and other institutions. As a forecast of what might come, Cummings and Oversight Democrats have submitted more than 50 subpoena requests for administrative documents on topics ranging from Trump’s efforts to dismantle Obamacare and officials’ use of chartered flights to the president’s travel ban and the use of private email in the White House. Republicans have denied every request.

Transportation and Infrastructure. Rep. Peter DeFazio (Ore.) wants the infrastructure package that Trump promised but never delivered.

Ways and Means. Rep. Richard Neal (Mass.) wants to revisit tax cuts, including hearings on what the cuts never delivered to the middle class. He also wants to reinstall the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, that was eliminated in the GOP tax law. He also targets shoring up retirement savings, protecting multi-employer pension plans and infrastructure.

Does any of this sound “radical”?


Terry H. Schwadron

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