Opinion: Democratic Party Should Take the Reins of Fiscal Responsibility

Democratic Party
Photo by Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance

One year from now the Democratic Party will select its presidential nominee to run against Donald Trump, an incumbent president who is widely reviled on a personal level even by members of his own party.

Yet incredibly, his re-election remains within the realm of possibility, becoming ever more realistic as Democratic presidential candidates struggle to differentiate themselves and fail to hone a message that both resonates and is simply identifiable to the general electorate.

The national Democratic Party is in as much of a shambles now as the Republican Party was with the rise of the Tea Party 10 years ago. We should be poised to take over both the White House and the same U.S. Senate that has failed to hold the president accountable for his felonious, treasonous and anti-American words and actions.

Instead many leading Democratic candidates are running their campaigns on platforms that, extremist or not, are perceived to be precisely that by the majority of Americans. The Democratic Party needs to seize this political opportunity to reinvent itself and take control of the conversation.

As a political strategist to President Bill Clinton, James Carville shaped the ultimately successful 1992 campaign with this phrase: “It’s the economy, stupid.” He was right then and he remains correct today.

When it comes to selecting their chief executive, the overwhelming majority of Americans time and again vote for a stronger economy. The Democratic Party needs to reframe each and every one of its policies around the concept of creating a stronger economy through fiscal responsibility.

We have spent long enough ceding ground on fiscal responsibility to a profligate Republican Party that has racked up more national debt under its leadership with unfunded wars and irresponsible tax cuts over the past few decades than has been seen under Democratic administrations. The Democratic Party needs to own fiscal responsibility and couch all of its policies within these terms.

In truth, the socially compassionate programs for which the Democratic Party has become known, from FDR’s New Deal that gave us Social Security to LBJ’s Great Society program that gave us Medicare, are fundamentally (and perhaps counterintuitively to some) fiscally responsible programs at their core. We need to demonstrate that investing in a social safety net, in our children’s futures and everyone’s welfare will generate far more return on investment than any dithering tax cut that disproportionately benefits the wealthiest few among us.

Time and again Democrats support drug rehabilitation programs but fail to convey to voters that these programs cost taxpayers far less than incarceration. Instead of making the argument that we have a moral obligation to support drug addicts (about which reasonable people can disagree), Democrats should be making the case that taxpayers should support such a program out of their own self-interest to reduce the total amount of public dollars allocated toward addiction.

Public education, and especially higher education, has long been demonstrated to have a causal correlation with long-term economic development. An educated workforce can draw greater salaries, generate greater wealth and produces more public tax revenues. Similarly, a workforce that is not saddled with six-figure student debt is one that is better equipped to obtain a mortgage, purchase a home and establish themselves as stable contributors to their community and the economy writ large.

Though the Democratic Party has been making the case for universal health insurance coverage since FDR’s administration, it has failed to point out that ever since 1986 with the passage of Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act, the US already has de-facto universal health insurance coverage through hospital emergency departments, which must see and stabilize any person who arrives at their door regardless of their payer status (this includes undocumented and uninsured persons).

In turn, the IRS counts this often “uncompensated care” as a sufficient demonstration of a “community benefit,” thus exempting the hospital from paying corporate income taxes. Then the hospital can turn around and request even greater payments from health insurance companies including Medicare (which spends your tax dollars) to request higher “disproportionate care” payments for having cared for the uninsured.

We are already paying much more for health care than we need to be and are getting worse results on a population level than many other developed nations (that spend about half per capita on health care costs). Many in the opposition say that Medicare for All would be nice but we just can’t afford it; the truth is that we can’t afford not to pursue those economies of scale and additional savings that would result from a single-payer system and the Democratic Party is guilty of a dereliction of duty in failing to convey to the American public that even a “public option” is a fiscally prudent policy worth pursuing.

The Democratic Party should take the reins of fiscal responsibility and use it to prevent ourselves from careening off a political cliff, which is precisely what another four years of a Trump administration would amount to.

We don’t need to change our policies but rather how we frame them to the general public.

America needs a Democratic presidential candidate who is willing to step up to reframe our policy platform in economically responsible terms that will resonate with the public. The choice is ours and the time is now.


The writer is a health policy professional, a former political candidate and a former member of Montgomery County Democratic Central Committee.

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  1. If you watched the Dem Presidential debates, you can see that candidates ARE trying to do this, but the panelists and the “moderate” opponents are pretty good at undermining the types of cost-benefit arguments advocated here. Bernie and Elizabeth tried to explain how Medicare for All would save households and the nation tons of money but they were cut off and eye-rolled again and again.

    We need to undermine the language of fiscal responsibility by exposing it as a smokescreen for policies that favor wealthy special interests. We need to show how it is invoked for anything that would help students, workers, or elderly but ignored when it comes to war spending.

    Modern monetary theory provides a rational and solid framework for showing that deficit spending is not the bugaboo that mainstream media and politicians (even Pres. Obama and Speaker Pelosi) make out and that it has always been PRIVATE debt that crashed the economy. (In 1929 and 2008, for example.)

    Finally, we need to tax the rich because they use way too much wealth for dangerous financial speculation instead of socially positive development.

  2. Charlie,
    I agree with your first paragraph, am unsure about the need to “undermine the language of fiscal responsibility” but might support that in its current use by the Republican Party, and agree with your third and fourth paragraphs. To build on your argument about Keynesian economics, it was public debt spending that drew us out of both the Great Depression and the Great Recession.
    Thanks for your comments,

    As a side note I’d like to add comments from former Maryland State Delegate Dan Morhaim about the presidential debate format, which you allude to in your comments:
    1) Our highest priority is to win the Presidency. Therefore, the DNC ought to require all candidates as a condition of participation to issue a pledge that they will not speak ill of each other (as Reagan demanded of Republicans), to endorse and fully support the Presidential and Vice-Presidential nominees, and that they will urge their followers to do the same. Once the nominees are chosen, the rivals should be offered key positions in their upcoming Administration. Those who refuse to do this should not be allowed to participate. We cannot afford another circular firing squad or losing this election because we did not bring all segments of our party together at the outset.

    2) The so-called “debate” format is awful. Let’s take the “moderators” out of the process. Their prime concern is with their own egos their ratings. It gets even worse when there are self-aggrandizers like Chuck Todd and Jake Tapper asking questions, seeking only to create “controversy”. Let’s be the ones who do something different, informative, exciting, and direct. How about this? Give each candidate 3, 4, or 5 minutes to do a presentation. After they’ve all had their first turn, each gets another 2-3 minutes to add anything to their prior comments. That would give them a chance to fully explain positions and the audience to actually get to know the candidates. Let’s allow the candidates to speak for themselves, and then citizens can make their own assessments. Frankly, any variation of the current format would be an improvement.

    3) Last and worst, the “debate’ format is giving Trump and the Republicans anti-Democrat videotape (Dems criticizing Dems) that will be used against the eventual nominee. Why would we allow this to happen?


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