When Democrats returned to Washington following the November congressional elections, the defeated party turned, in predictable fashion, on itself. Blame for the losses flew from the Senate to the White House, from the White House onto bumbling and overly cautious candidates, and back around again. But one of the more resonant postmortems came from House Democrats, who recognized that the party's agenda and message simply did not compel its core voters to turn out as they did in reelecting President Obama in 2012.
Like Republicans in that election, Democratic candidates in 2014 spent too much time bashing their opponents (ginning up the worn theme of a GOP "war on women," for example) and not enough time touting either the economic success of the Obama administration or their plans for what to do next. The economic program they did offer—centered on raising the minimum wage and a hodgepodge of other modest initiatives—paled when compared to the ambitious proposals that had carried Obama and his allies into office in the first place. And it did not do enough to motivate the middle class or its concerns about stagnant wages and a decline in economic mobility.
On Monday, one of the leading Democratic policy-makers in the House, Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, offered a new and more aggressive economic blueprint that may well become a rallying point for the party in 2016. The headline proposal is a $1.2 trillion package of tax cuts for middle-income earners, including a $1,000 "paycheck bonus credit" for individuals making less than $100,000 a year, and twice that amount for couples earning less than $200,000 annually. Van Hollen, who is the top Democrat on the Budget Committee, would also expand the earned income tax credit and the child care tax credit, along with offering an even bigger break for people who devoted a portion of their tax credit to retirement savings. Additionally, the plan would try to prod CEOs to give their employees raises by changing the rules for companies that claim deductions for executive pay.