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Morning Plum: The ‘great wage slowdown’ will loom large in 2016 election

As I’ve reported here before, Democratic strategists believe the party got shellacked in the last elections in part because Dems failed to persuade voters they had a comprehensive agenda to address stagnating wages and move the country towards broadly shared prosperity. They think addressing this problem is particularly urgent, because the 2016 elections may turn on which party more convincingly offers answers to the deep, long-term structural problems plaguing the economy.

Now the Center for American Progress is stirring the political pot with the release of a comprehensive new report on the great wage slowdown and income inequality, how it’s impacting the future prospects of the U.S.A.’s political and economic health, and what can be done to insure a more “inclusive prosperity,” which it identifies as a major challenge of our time.

David Leonhardt has a good introduction to the report, writing that it is a “deeply serious document” and taking stock of the many solutions it offers, which, he notes, include ideas both sides can like. But Leonhardt is right to identify this as the crucial overriding idea:

Its central message is that the great wage slowdown is not inevitable…the crucial point is the broader one: Middle-class stagnation is not preordained. No country has found a magic bullet, but many are doing some things better than the United States – and have the better results to show for it.

The question of whether voters can be persuaded that wage stagnation is “not inevitable” — which is to say, that something can be done about it — has crucial political ramifications. Democratic strategists believe that a key problem they face in persuading voters that they have a comprehensive shared-prosperity agenda is their deep skepticism that government can solve such profound structural problems. As Dem pollster Mark Mellman aptly put it: “They are not wrong. We’ve been promising that government can be a tool to improve people’s economic situation for decades, and by and large, it hasn’t happened.”

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that this new report represents a kind of opening template for the larger broad-strokes story Hillary Clinton’s presidential candidacy will try to tell. After all, as Ed Kilgore has noted, the Center for American Progress is “generally thought to be the beating heart of Hillaryland.” But the GOP presidential hopefuls, too, appear to believe they need to convey a sense that they will offer solutions to the great wage slowdown. Thus  Marco Rubio’s new book attempts to speak directly to people’s economic struggles, and Jeb Bush has been making nice noises about how the economy has been disproportionately good to those at the top (though he claims only “conservative” solutions can “remove the barriers to upward mobility”).

One of the big coming battles will be fought around which party can persuasively convey a sense that the continuation of all these deep, long-running economic trends is — as Leonhardt puts it — “not inevitable.” Since this would seem to require the parties to offer a fully fleshed out affirmative economic agenda — theoretically, at least — this will be a good debate to have.


* NEW OBAMA PROPOSAL EXPANDING SICK TIME: Coming today: “Obama will propose on Thursday that Congress adopt the Healthy Families Act, which would grant Americans seven days a year of paid sick time.” His advisers argue that “the expansion of paid leave would improve worker productivity and make U.S. businesses more competitive.”

Valerie Jarrett, in her piece explaining the policy, adds that the U.S. is “the only developed country in the world that does not offer paid maternity leave.” It’s hard to imagine Republicans supporting this; they and the business community will likely dismiss it as a job killer and another Big Gummint mandate.

* REPUBLICANS WORRY ABOUT ROMNEY ‘SELF-DEPORT’ STANCE: David Drucker talks to Republican operatives who are worried that another Mitt Romney presidential run could be problematic for the GOP, because it could mean a re-run of his “self deportation” stance will again cost the nominee badly among Latinos.

Fine, but the current GOP stance on immigration is arguably to the right of Romney’s “self-deportation” position. So it will be interesting to see where GOP hopefuls such as Romney, Jeb Bush, and Marco Rubio come down on the new House GOP maximum-deportations proposal.

* REPUBLICANS WORRY ABOUT TED CRUZ ANTI-“AMNESTY” CRUSADE: Meanwhile, Bloomberg’s Heidi Przybyla reports that some Republicans are fretting that Ted Cruz’s harsh crusade against Obama “amnesty” could also continue turning Latinos against the GOP, particularly in Texas. Cruz’s response:

“The Democrats said that before November as well,” he said in an interview. “It proved correct: It did mobilize voters — and we saw a historic tidal wave of an election that was a referendum on executive amnesty.”

One wonders if GOP strategists who are actually paid to win elections agree that the 2014 midterm election victory, fought on a GOP-leaning map, means the party doesn’t need to worry about the Latino vote heading into a national election with a presidential year electorate.

* WATCH SCOTUS ON GAY MARRIAGE TOMORROW: Tomorrow the Supreme Court very well may announce that it has decided to take up a gay marriage case this year. Chris Geidner is optimistic that it will happen, and offers a guide to how we got to this point and what to look for. The core question SCOTUS will grapple with is this: Is there a Constitutionally protected right to gay marriage?

* AMERICANS SUPPORT KEYSTONE PIPELINE: A new CNN poll finds, as many others have, that a majority of Americans supports building Keystone, 57-28. This underscores the political difficulties Obama faces in deciding whether to approve the project, which is now more pressing since a Nebraska court green-lighted it.

However, it’s noteworthy that Democrats are actually split on the project — only a minority of them opposes it — which perhaps means approving it wouldn’t produce all that much blow-back from them.

 * A NATION OF MAKERS AND TAKERS? E.J. Dionne has a good column today targeting the idea that the U.S. government takes the hard-earned wealth of the makers and showers it all over the takers, noting that tax policy overall isn’t as progressive as some claim. He adds:

Public policies in most other well-to-do countries push much harder against inequality than ours do. According to the Luxembourg Income Study, the United States ranks 10th in income inequality before taxes and government transfers. By this measure, Ireland and Britain, and even Sweden and Norway, are more unequal than we are. But after government transfers are taken into account, the good old USA soars to first in inequality.

* AND BEHOLD THE MITT-MENTUM IN IOWA!!!! A new poll finds that Mitt Romney leads all GOP challengers in a poll of Iowa Republicans, with 21 percent to Jeb Bush’s 14 percent and Scott Walker’s 10 percent. This is noteworthy not because the poll tells us anything — it’s likely all name recognition — but because this sort of chatter makes a Mitt run for president more likely. Fun times ahead!