Imagine a Congress whose members act in lockstep, a Congress that passes legislation swiftly and responsibly in the interests of constituents without protracted bickering or stonewalling or covertly adding provisions promoted by lobbyists and corporate fatcats. Can you imagine?
Brand New Congress candidates can imagine. In fact, Brand New Congress candidates – Republicans and Democrats alike – have signed off on a progressive platform they pledge to remain committed to once elected. And it’s a largely mainstream vision shared by current sitting members of Congress, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT).
The Brand New Congress platform aligns closely with many of Bernie’s positions – think Medicare for All, $15 minimum wage, infrastructure investment and more. So Bernie’s recent ’ announcement of his intention to seek re-election to the U.S. Senate in 20 not only permits a renewed push for his slate of progressive legislation but also sets a stage for incoming progressive Brand New Congress members and others to build on when they are voted in this fall.
Among Bernie’s recent legislation likely to gain traction with an increased progressive Congressional presence is the Workplace Democracy Act. Introduced earlier this month, the bill, if passed, would make it easier for workers to join unions. Notably, it seeks to expand the definition of “employer,” which would enable the upwards of one-third of the American workforce employed as contractors or in the gig economy expanded workplace rights.
According to a press release, “Unions lead to higher wages, better benefits and a more secure retirement. Union workers earn 26 percent more, on average than non-union workers. Union workers are also half as likely to be victims of health and safety violations or of wage theft, 18 percent more likely to have health coverage, and 23 percent more likely to have either an employer-sponsored pension or 401(k).”
“What this bill is about,” Sanders told the Washington Post, “is saying the American people believe that unions are a positive force for our economy.” Such legislation has an enhanced urgency in light of the Supreme Court’s recent 5-4 ruling requiring individual arbitration rather than collective action by private employees.
Bernie is also hatching a jobs plan reminiscent of the post-World War II, New Deal era’s Works Progress Administration to guarantee all Americans a $15-an-hour job with benefits, which would include connecting workers with job centers where they could get jobs in areas of need via proposals from local and state government entities.
This is also something Brand New Congress candidates support. Worker rights, job security, and economic stability are part of Brand New Congress’s platform, which promotes a $15-an-hour living wage for American workers as well as vast investments in infrastructure projects nationwide.
Likewise, Bernie’s strong and sustained endorsement of Medicare for All – which Brand New Congress candidates also strongly endorse – dovetails with his efforts to address the opioid epidemic and marijuana legalization.
Bernie recently introduced the Opioid Crisis Accountability Act to hold drug companies responsible for the drug epidemic similar to how Big Tobacco was held accountable in the 1980s and 1990s. It would hold pharmaceutical company executives criminally liable for contributing to the epidemic and force companies to compensate the estimated tens of billions of dollars lost by the economy as a result of the epidemic.
The Marijuana Justice Act Sanders co-sponsors would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level, bringing federal up to speed as more and more states move to legalize marijuana. Sanders has noted the correlation between marijuana use with decreased opioid use as grounds to support such legislation.
Brand New Congress’s platform commits to ending the War on Drugs and legalizing marijuana.
Bills like Bernie’s highlight the freely elected representatives have to introduce progressive legislation in the interests of their constituents when corporate money and influence unencumber them. With a Congress presently dominated by members beholden to Wall Street and corporate donors, Sanders’ legislation provides a baseline for swift progressive action should the body’s composition change in the fall.
And given recent progressive wins at the local and state level – including Stacey Abrams’ win this week in Georgia – and advancements to the general election ballot for many Brand New Congress candidates, it seems poised to shift.
By Jessica Chapman, BNC Volunteer