Democratic Party, R.I.P.

Although House and Senate members are still working from makeshift offices, this week looks likely to see a speed-up of activity on the Capitol Hill appropriations front. The House plans to pass its final FY02 spending bill, and the Senate at least will finish its 11th version of the same, and there should be some more action on an economic stimulus package.

With any luck we'll see more of that nasty "divisiveness" that surfaced in the House last week. The more divisiveness, the better. There hasn't been anywhere near enough of it for way too long.

"Can Democrats Still Play the Game?" the New Yorker's Jeff Toobin asked in Sunday's New York Times. "The Democrats' watchword has been bipartisanship, which has largely meant in real terms, acquiescence to the Republican agenda."

Bipartisanship is appropriate in wartime, we're told. Every powerful pundit praised senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle when he embraced George Bush, the night of Bush's speech to a joint session of Congress in the wake of September 11.

But Democratic acquiescence didn't come in with the flights that hit the Trade Towers. It was a trademark of the Democratic response to Election 2000, as Toobin, who wrote a book about that, points out. "The Democratic gene for unreciprocated bipartisanship was also on display during the tumultuous recount in Florida."

Exactly six months before the "Day That Changed Everything," Robert Reich, labor secretary from 1993-97, declared his party dead: "If the Democratic Party's alive, why doesn't it insist that the budget surplus be spent on healthcare for the 44 million Americans without it? And childcare for the millions who lack it? And good schools for all kids? Why doesn't the party say it's plain absurd to spend $300 billion on the military when the Cold War is over, and tens of billions more on a missile-defense shield that won't work? Why isn't it outraged that most of the benefits of President Bush's tax cut will go to people at the top? Why does it play dead on the environment? Why? Because it's not playing dead. It is dead!"

Now we have a stimulus package in the works, and never was a package so aptly named: $100 billion, mostly aimed at the RNC's biggest donors, with $25 billion in retroactive tax refunds to corporations. IBM gets $1.4 billion in tax breaks, General Motors, $800 million, Enron, $254 million ... It won't stimulate consumer demand, but it sure as hell ought to stir some Democrats from their doze.

The Progressive Caucus has introduced an alternative House economic plan that would:

*expand unemployment benefits by 25 percent or $65 per week, whichever is greater, and extend benefits an additional 26 weeks;
*provide federal payments of 75 percent of COBRA for one year, and assistance for states to offer Medicaid coverage to low-income unemployed individuals and their families;
*provide a tax rebate to individuals who filed tax returns in 2000, but did not receive a rebate under the Bush tax plan;
*create $11 billion in interest free financing for school construction and modernization.

Presenting another alternative, Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) is author of the First Things First Act of 2001, H.R. 2999. "The choice is clear when it comes to stimulating the economy," she said last week. "Either you are on the side of workers and families or huge corporations. The Democrats are offering an economic stimulus package that will boost the economy, offer help to those who need it, and is paid for.

"The Republican package shamelessly raids the Treasury at a time of crisis on behalf of the wealthiest corporations and barely throws a bone to unemployed workers. Republicans are pushing their worn-out agenda of tax cuts that their lobbyist friends were demanding even before the sirens were silent at Ground Zero. That is just shameless pandering.

"I call on the President and all members, Republicans and Democrats, who care about those unemployed Americans suffering from the double hit of the economic downturn and the fallout from September 11 to reject this outrageous plan," Schakowsky told a Capitol Hill press conference last week.

Will her own party heed her call? If not, we'll have to assume that it is in indeed dead. Not resting, but deceased, as Reich said. Just like that Monty Python parrot.

Laura Flanders is a columnist for WorkingforChange.


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