For once I find myself in agreement with E. J. Dionne:
Do Republicans really want to be known as a purely negative party? The GOP’s establishment was pleased that it again beat back the tea party with Sen. Pat Roberts’s victory in Tuesday’s Kansas primary. Might this not give the party a little more room to work with Democrats on something?
That’s where the plain vanilla agenda comes in. Yes, the label risks dooming the enterprise. The phrase comes from President Obama — last week, he scolded House Republicans for blocking “even basic, common-sense, plain vanilla legislation” — and many conservatives presume anything associated with Obama is toxic.
Still, it’s an instructive concept to encourage a search for policy ideas that ought not to be terribly controversial. To construct such an agenda, I sat down this week with Heather Boushey and Elisabeth Jacobs of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth. We put together two lists. The as-plain-as-possible-vanilla list included proposals that already have a lot of Republican support. The ought-to-be-plain-vanilla ideas either once won GOP backing or should have appeal, given other things to which conservatives are committed.
On the first list: extending the earned-income tax credit (EITC) for single, childless people; a refundable child tax credit; and a big infrastructure bill, perhaps including an infrastructure bank.
And here’s the ought-to-be-plainvanilla list: a minimum-wage increase (many Republicans used to vote for it); pre-kindergarten expansion (many of the most ambitious pre-K programs are in Republican-led states such as Oklahoma and Georgia); paid family leave (financed as an insurance program so employers don’t carry the whole load); and the right not to be fired just for requesting a flexible work schedule.
There ought to be more areas of agreement between the two parties and there should be areas in which they would agree to work together for the good of all of us. To do that there would need to be an end to “poison pills”, comprehensive or omnibus legislation in which unacceptable aspects are intermingled with things that should be acceptable to both parties, a general swallowing of their pride on the part of the Republicans, and a general abandoning of the rejectionist stance they’ve held for the last six year.
Since I don’t believe that any of those things will happen, regardless of the outcome in November the next two years are likely to bring more of the same.