The Task Force Listens
If Vice President Biden is going to have a Middle-Class Taskforce, my colleague Dan Morris told Time magazine last month, “they're going to need to talk to real members of the middle class.” In an otherwise insipid article (does the salary of the Mayor of Philadelphia have anything to do with the quality of his policy advice?) Dan had a point, and the Task Force organizers seem to have heard it.
Unlike it’s first substantive meeting, in which the Task Force heard expert testimony but offered audience members and the public at large no opportunity for input at the event, the next event will be a town hall style meeting with “a focus on questions, concerns and ideas from average citizens.” Contribute your ideas on the Task Force website.
The Task Force is bound to hear tales of woe. The middle class was squeezed before the current recession began. Layoffs, foreclosures and pay cuts have made the situation immeasurably worse. But middle-class Americans also have some pretty smart ideas about the policies to make things better. DMI’s first annual middle-class poll conducted last summer, found that self-identified middle-class Americans strongly supported a national health insurance plan, taxing the income of hedge fund managers at the same rate as everybody else, and allowing bankruptcy judges to change mortgage payments to prevent foreclosure – legislation that recently passed the House of Representatives. And while Republicans in Congress may be fiercely battling these policy ideas, majorities of rank-and-file middle-class Republicans support them. It sounds like members of Congress should be listening to their middle-class constituents as well.
As a former community organizer, it’s no surprise that President Obama recognizes the power of engaging people personally in the debate over the issues and policies that shape their lives. I’m encouraged by reports that the President is mobilizing his grassroots network to build support for a budget with tremendous potential to strengthen and expand the middle class by laying the groundwork for universal health care, sustainable energy, and some of the very same policy ideas middle-class Americans told DMI they support. Rather than trying to duck a well-founded populist backlash against bailout for undeserving financial giants, the Administration may just manage to ride it and use the popular energy to create better policy around both the financial crisis and the challenges we face in our daily lives.