Progressives Clock Some Wins

Newsletter 38: How meaningful will they be?

It’s now been over a month since Joe Biden announced his intention to reach out to the Democratic party’s left flank. This week, however, seems to be the first time that many progressive groups began to believe that he might mean it. 

2020 (and Potentially 2021)

On Wednesday, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders announced the members of their six joint policy task forces to much fanfare. Progressive groups had reason to celebrate; champions on labor rights, environmental policy, economic inequality and more were well-represented in the task forces’ membership. 

This, many argued, demonstrated that Biden was listening to their demands. In particular, groups that were involved with the #EarnOurVote letter chalked this up as a win. Varshini Prakash of the Sunrise Movement (one of the letter’s signatories) is on the climate policy task force alongside Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. And Waleed Shahid, Communications Director for Justice Democrats (another of the letter’s signatories), confirmed that appointing people like Ocasio-Cortez  is “in the spirit of the #EarnOurVote letter.”

Amid the celebration, however, one troubling name was seemingly overlooked, that of Sonal Shah. As our Max Moran writes, Shah was most recently Pete Buttigieg’s National Policy Director, but prior to that engagement had taken her fair share of turns through the revolving door, from the Treasury Department to Goldman Sachs and Google, and then back to the Obama White House. As the Executive Director of the Beeck Center For Social Impact And Innovation at Georgetown, Shah expressed skepticism about the government’s ability to do good, stating “we cannot drive lasting change by creating new top-down programs from Washington.” As many push for Biden to adopt a New Deal-scale response to this crisis, the presence of voices like Shah’s, could present formidable headwinds. 

Other such voices seem to be changing their tune in response to progressive pushback. Last week, we wrote about a new paper by Natasha Sarin, Larry Summers’ protégé, which suggested allowing people to pull from their Social Security savings to weather the current crisis. This week, after Trump backed a similar proposal, Sarin initiated a high-profile retreat by penning a Bloomberg op-ed disavowing her paper’s position as too dangerous a political precedent. 

These are promising signs for progressives, but there is still a long fight ahead. Even the value of their high-profile wins on the task forces is an open question. How central will these new voices be in crafting the Biden campaign’s policies? How does this new structure fit into the campaign’s existing advisory framework? How much power will these outsiders have relative to people like Larry Summers? 

Most importantly, what influence will these task forces have over the selection of personnel? Since personnel is policy, and these are policy task forces, the answer should be a lot. But it’s not clear that it will be. To make these task forces count, progressives will need to direct their power towards shaping the answers to these critical questions. 

As long as they remain unanswered, however, we will be vigilantly monitoring all manner of influence over the Biden campaign and transition process. That task is easier than ever with the help of our newly-launched Presidential Power Map. The Power Map provides a catalogue of high dollar donors and bundlers, broken down by their sectoral affiliations, for a selection of 2020 candidates. The tool allows you to quickly see what share of a candidate’s support is coming from a given sector and make inferences about what that would mean for their administration.  

Congressional Oversight

After allowing the Senate to dictate stimulus spending thus far, House Democrats are finally throwing out the first pitch in this latest round of appropriations talks. Their long-awaited opening salvo, however, is underwhelming. For one, leadership has repeatedly emphasized that this is a messaging bill, a statement of principles, not a serious opening offer. In so doing, they virtually guarantee that the Senate does not take it seriously as a starting position. 

Worse still, the so-called messaging bill isn’t even sending a good message. While this legislation includes some desperately needed measures - like aid to states and new stimulus payments for working people - those come packaged together with measures  -  like stimulus for trade associations, dark money groups, mortgage servicers, and subsidies for private health insurers by way of COBRA - that would only be defensible if they were the price for McConnell’s support.

Even more important than what made it into the bill, however, is what was left out. Despite watching this administration mismanage this crisis for months, this package still doesn’t include new conditions on bailout money, subpoena power for the bailout oversight commission, new reporting requirements, or any manner of automatic trigger to withhold appropriated funds when rules are violated. Even after all that we’ve seen in the past few months, leadership still isn’t taking oversight seriously. If this hasn’t done it, one wonders if anything will. 

We will, however, be celebrating one thing tomorrow: the belated implementation of remote voting and remote hearing mechanisms. Pelosi’s refusal to move expediently on remote proceedings is at the heart of almost all of the failures we have bemoaned since the start of the outbreak. By relying on unanimous consent, Pelosi has given House Republicans veto power and severely limited the chamber’s ambitions.She has passed the upper hand to Senate Republicans in negotiations thus far. And she has tamped down on the creativity and vision of her membership, shrinking a large House majority to a caucus of one

With this obstacle out of the way, we look forward to seeing what the full breadth of the caucus is able to tackle. Already, oversight efforts are ramping up, with the Energy and Commerce committee hearing testimony yesterday from former head of Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) Rick Bright. But there’s much, much more that has been left untouched in their extended absence (for a sampling see our over 100-tweet long thread of oversight suggestions). Hopefully members are ready to dive in. 

Independent Agencies

More bad news this week at the US Postal Service. Deputy Postmaster General Ronald Stroman announced his intention to resign at the end of the month after having apparently been forced out. Stroman’s departure represents a major loss for many reasons: he is a committed public servant who spent over 30 years in government, the last nine as USPS’ DPMG; and of particular relevance right now, he was very active in efforts to expand vote-by-mail. 

With Stroman out, Trump’s new pick for Postmaster General, Trump donor Louis DeJoy, will essentially get to choose his deputy. Stroman’s resignation also means that none of the USPS’ Governors will have spent more than two years on the board, leaving it with a critical lack of institutional knowledge at an exceedingly challenging time.

Want more?Check out some of the pieces that we have published or contributed research or thoughts to in the last couple of weeks:

Financial Watchdog’s Conflicted Task Force Earning Top Dollar

The Attitude With Arnie Arnesen, May 14, 2020

Expect Socially Distant Fireworks as Capitol Hill Begins COVID-19 Hearings

Politico Morning Tech, May 12th, 2020

New “Power Map” Preserves Record Of Bundlers and Donors In 2020 Primary

‘Two Tiers of Justice’: Lawyers Fume Over Barr’s ‘Corruption’ After Motion to Dismiss Flynn Prosecution

'A Cancer on Justice in This Nation': Fresh Demand for Barr's Resignation—or Impeachment—After Flynn Charges Dropped

Joe Biden and the Politics of Capture

Robinhood's new top lawyer, a former SEC commissioner, could help the firm shed its scrappy roots

Biden camp's bridges to tech

Bezos Conveniently Ignores Congress’s Call to the Hot Seat

Is A Campaign Fundraiser Overseeing Biden's Policy Shop?

A VP Harris Must Make Clear Commitments To Build Trust

A Brief History of the SBA

Sonal Shah Is Everything Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Is Not

Private Equity is Making COVID-19 in Nursing Homes Even Worse. A President Biden Could do Something About it.

Apple Gets a Boot in Joe Biden’s Door

Private Equity is Making COVID-19 in Nursing Homes Even Worse. A President Biden Could do Something About it.

Will Biden Rein in Private Equity’s Hold on Healthcare?

Diplomacy by Donors

Biden’s Ties to Immigration Enforcement Run Through BigTech

Biden’s No Trumpian Real Estate Tycoon, But Still Receives Heavy Real Estate Backing