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The Democrats' next focus

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Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Post asked what issues the Democrats should focus on after financial regulatory reform. Below, assessments from Douglas E. Schoen, Dan Schnur, Maya MacGuineas, Frank Sharry, Frances Beinecke, Mary Beth Cahill and Ed Rogers.

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DOUGLAS E. SCHOEN

Democratic pollster and author

The debate the Democratic congressional leadership is reportedly having over what issue to take up next represents a choice between the wrong issues, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons.

Congressional Democrats are apparently weighing whether to take on climate change or immigration. But both are clear losers politically at this time. Immigration would only provoke fierce opposition among swing voters in marginal congressional districts -- particularly in the South and Southwest. Climate change would produce a firestorm in the coal-dependent Midwest from voters wary of the legislation and scared to death of its cost.

Instead, what the Democrats should be doing is taking up the issue of jobs, then jobs and then jobs once again. With the unemployment rate still hovering perilously close to 10 percent, the only way congressional Democrats and the administration can improve their eroding political position is by taking on the jobs issue systematically -- not sporadically and spasmodically. Every approach should be put on the table: tax incentives for job creation, a payroll tax holiday and even infrastructure investment -- if only to demonstrate the party's commitment to doing everything possible to stimulate employment.

Until the Democrats dedicate themselves singularly to spurring long-term, private-sector job creation, they face the prospect of an overwhelming defeat in November.

DAN SCHNUR

Director of the University of Southern California's Unruh Institute of Politics; communications director for John McCain's 2000 presidential campaign

Despite the recent signals from the White House about taking on immigration reform, it's difficult to believe the Democrats think they can actually get a bill through that's much different from the Bush-Kennedy-McCain immigration effort from a few years ago. More likely, they figure they can make just enough noise on this issue to keep Hispanic voters from sitting out the midterm elections this fall.

It's also hard to see a way they get energy legislation done this year, either. Even by switching from cap-and-trade to drilling-and-nukes, there are too many moving parts -- and too much ideological distance between the environmentalists and the Blue Dogs in their own party -- to reconcile in such a short time.

That leaves campaign reform or education. Obama seems pretty intent on using his Supreme Court nomination as a platform from which to tee up a "people vs. the powerful" campaign to lessen the impact of the court's Citizens United decision, and moving from the confirmation of a new justice into a legislative fight on this front is a natural segue. But pushing harder on the Race to the Top education reforms still seems like the smartest option. It's popular, it's relatively bipartisan and it might be the single best way of reinvigorating the youth and minority vote that the Democrats will need to turn out in November.


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