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MARCH 1, 2001
1:23 PM
CONTACT:  Campaign for America's Future
Tasha Spindler 202-955-5665
Progressives To Lead Fight against Bush Tax Breaks for Rich, Lay Out Bold Alternative at Conference on 'Next Agenda'
WASHINGTON - March 1 - "This nation faces a fundamental choice," declared Robert Borosage, co-director of the Campaign for America's Future (CAF), speaking on Wednesday, Feb. 28, the morning after President George W. Bush outlined his budget and tax plans to a joint session of Congress. Borosage was opening a Conference on the Next Agenda, which brought together progressive leaders and activists in Washington. He said that for the participants, the choice is clear: "Will we use the benefits of prosperity to invest in the future, or squander it on tax breaks that largely benefit the few?"

The agenda President Bush unveiled last night is "out of step with the times and at odds with the emerging democratic majority of the American people," said Borosage. "The majority of Americans did not vote to spend much of the surplus on a tax break that goes most to the wealthiest Americans. They do not support privatizing Social Security. They want more investment in education and affordable health care, while preserving Social Security and Medicare. Progressives -- the activist base of the Democratic Party -- will lead the fight for sensible priorities. We will make the case for strengthening families, empowering workers, and building democracy -- and challenge an administration agenda that threatens to repeat the mistakes of the past decades. Now is the time for progressives to lay out a bold alternative and take their case to the American people."

At the conference, Rep. Jan Schakowsky announced plans to join with the Campaign for America's Future in taking this argument across the country, enlisting national legislators, state and local leaders and activists in a new progressive leadership organization. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney outlined the growing popularity of the working families agenda, and pledged to challenge the gulf between "rhetoric and reality" of the Bush administration. Hillary Shelton, Washington Representative of the NAACP, and Sweeney announced support for building a new movement on voting rights across the country, to insure that every vote counts and every vote is counted

The conference highlighted three themes: (1) There is an emerging majority for progressive reform, demonstrated by the 52 percent center-left vote won by Gore and Nader in the last election. (2) That majority is built around an agenda based on the concerns that families struggle with everyday -- from educating their children, to affordable health care, to retirement security. (3) The dynamics of the society and economy suggest that demand for that agenda is likely to grow, not decline. Now, speakers argued, progressives have to be much bolder in confronting the Bush agenda and putting forth a clear alternative.

As Senator Paul Wellstone said, "It is not enough to argue against Bush's tax breaks, we must lay out what we want and argue our case to the American people." Wellstone warned against spending too much energy in inside-the-beltway politics, saying progressives had to link with the grassroots energy that was building across the country. Wellstone and Schakowsky called for progressives to build the infrastructure needed to detail the agenda, enlist new leaders, recruit candidates, run effective campaigns and build a progressive majority in the country and in the Congress. As a resource for this effort, the Campaign released The Next Agenda, a "handbook for progressives," outlining elements of a progressive agenda.

At the conference, Gore pollster Stan Greenberg detailed the center-left majority that emerged in the last election. Not only did Gore-Nader outpoll Bush by over three million votes, he said, but Gore's central message and his stance on issues were much more popular than he was. Large majorities favored Gore's positions on Social Security, on how to use the surplus, on prescription drugs and health care.

Rep. Hilda Solis argued that with the changing electorate, this emerging majority is likely to grow, not decline. America is rapidly becoming more diverse, with Democrats benefiting as the party of diversity. Women are working in large numbers, with Democrats benefiting as the party for choice, pay equity, and health care. Unions are showing an increasing capacity to educate their members and turn out their vote.

The fundamental dynamics of the economy will increase the need and demand for more activist government, argued Jeff Faux, president of the Economic Policy Institute. Women now work, noted Heidi Hartmann, President of the Institute for Women's Policy Research, creating new demands for child care, preschool, after school programs, paid family leave, restrictions on mandatory overtime and much more.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, head of the 52 member Progressive Caucus, laid out the Caucus' alternative to the Bush tax plan, a prosperity dividend that would stimulate the economy more and cost less. He argued that as people learned about the reality of the Bush plan, it would be defeated soundly. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. called for progressives to lay out basic principles -- that every Americans had the right to affordable, high quality health care, and affordable high quality education -- and mobilize people around a message of hope.

Afternoon sessions featured discussion of how to make affordable health care available to all, with Senator Paul Wellstone, Ted Marmor of Yale, and SEIU President Andy Stern. Rep. George Miller, whom Bush dubbed "Grande Jorge" when they met earlier this month, and NEA President Bob Chase laid out elements of a real education agenda. Other sessions featured presentations on the living wage campaign and pay equity for women.

In evening remarks, AFL-CIO President John Sweeney detailed the elements of the working family agenda that represent the new center in American politics. Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois warned that the coming struggle over direction and priorities would not be an easy one. Bush had the bully pulpit; Republicans control all branches of government. But, he argued, if Democrats stand up for working people, and the make the case for the investments vital to our future -- this is an argument that can be won.

CAF released a new book, THE NEXT AGENDA: Blueprint for a New Progressive Movement, edited by Robert Borosage and Roger Hickey and published by Westview Press.


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