THE CENTER-left Democratic Leadership Council rightly has figured out that the American middle class feels it is too low on the Bush totem pole, and so the DLC has devised an American Dream Initiative that promises to relieve the middle class in ways that would never occur to the Bushies -- while helping to elect more Democrats.
On the politics, the American Dream Initiative is brilliant. The Bushies clearly don't understand how it looks to the heartland when the administration tries to get rid of half of the IRS auditors who investigate inheritance tax returns. Bush's signing of the bankruptcy bill last year was a bail-out for rapacious banks that enable dicey credit-card spending. Even though the Bush tax cuts helped the middle class as well as the rich, they occurred as the federal debt ballooned to $8 trillion -- a sorry legacy for all of America's children.
On the policy, the DLC Dream is not that impressive.
Iowa Governor and DLC Chairman Tom Vilsack was in San Francisco last week touting the DLC Dream, and he showed a solid understanding of where Washington is going wrong. He complained that everyone talks about the "death tax," while he wants to do something about the "birth tax," that is, the $156,000 that is each American's share of the federal debt burden.
But the DLC goes too far in pushing an initiative that, sort of, promises a European-style welfare state -- but, since we're Americans, we don't have to pay steep European taxes. That is, thank you very much, more something for nothing.
The Dem Dream promises to make health care and education cheaper, with this kind of language: "Every American should have the opportunity and responsibility to go to college and earn a degree, or to get the lifelong training they need."
Responsibility to go to college? What does that even mean?
Is everybody supposed to go to college? I ask.
Vilsack responds that one of the saddest things he has to deal with as a governor is meeting young adults who tell him, "I really want to go to College X, but we can't afford it, so I'm either not going to college or I'm going to the community college down the road." Vilsack is also upset that his son had to borrow six figures to finish law school and thinks the government should step in so that students can go to the university or law school of their choice and still not shoulder a huge loan that prevents them from buying a home until their 30s.
The government can, should and does offer loans and grants for students, but I don't think waitresses and janitors should pick up the whole tab for someone else's law school of choice.
As it turns out, neither does the DLC. The American Dream Initiative promises a 10-year, $150 billion block grant for states that work to make college more affordable. The blueprint also calls for a $3,000 tuition-tax credit for college and graduate students -- which would be welcome relief for families, even if it is not a free education at a pricey Ivy League institution. The plan also calls for help for nontraditional students.
How would the DLC pay for its package, which features not only tuition-tax credits, but also a $500 savings bond for every baby born in America, universal heath care for children and a matching fund for low-income earners who save up to $2,000 a year?
Why, with efficiencies, of course. The American Dream Initiative would be funded by cutting the number of government contractors by 100,000 and "cutting wasteful corporate subsidies."
Now why didn't I think of that?
I liked Vilsack's focus on making government work better. I sorely wish Bush had more of that attitude. Also, I like the DLC blueprint's focus on robust regulation of pensions and mutual funds. I even liked Vilsack's call for a special commission to eliminate wasteful federal spending. (As Vilsack put it, "It gives people cover, but you know what, I'd rather give them cover and get the job done.")
Still, when it comes to promises of more government without raising your taxes, well, that must by why the DLC called it a "dream" initiative.