Democratic base wants compromise

February 7th, 2013

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Last November, Bob and Evelyn Driscoll waited 90 minutes in line to vote. Standing in a cold drizzle, neither of them were in love with either of the presidential candidates or their congressional representatives. But they were eager to vote because they knew the country faced immense challenges.

They believed the economy was better but still just inching along. Their take-home pay had been basically flat for the past 10 years. They worried that the deficit was standing in the way of America returning to greatness. They wondered whether Social Security and Medicare would be there for their kids — or themselves — when they needed it. And they hoped they had saved enough for retirement and for the ever-increasing cost of college for both of their children.

They stood in the cold until it was their turn to vote. They pulled the lever for the president, and for Democrats in the House and Senate. And if they were able to deliver a short message to each as we cross the threshold into Barack Obama’s second term, it would be this: “Fix it. Work together and fix it.”

The Driscolls aren’t just among a tiny slice of swing voters — they represent millions of moderate and independent voters across Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Ohio and throughout America. Most important for the president and Democrats in Congress, they represent the base of the Democratic Party.

In post-election polling by Third Way, and confirmed by national exit polls, the plurality of those who pulled the lever for President Barack Obama were not liberals but self-described moderates. In fact, 56 percent of those who voted for the president defined their own ideology as either moderate or conservative. A supermajority of Obama voters said they wanted the president to be more moderate or conservative in his second term compared with his first. And overwhelmingly, they wanted the president and members of Congress from both parties to compromise rather than stand their ground. In fact, the most unanimously supported statement in the post-election poll of 800 Obama voters was this: “Democrats and Republicans both need to make real compromises to come to an agreement on fixing the deficit.” A full 96 percent agreed with that statement.

Just like Bob and Evelyn, these voters worry about our nation’s fiscal situation — 7 in 10 said the federal deficit was a major problem — and they think we need to fix it in a balanced way. Eighty-two percent thought both spending cuts and tax increases should be involved (only 5 percent chose raising taxes alone). They want Social Security and Medicare to be protected, but they also think the programs have major financial problems that need to be fixed. Eight in 10 Obama voters say it would be better for the future of the country if Congress and the president made changes to Social Security and Medicare — only 19 percent say it would be better to leave them alone. They want to see Congress and the president work together across the aisle to put these programs on a sustainable path, so that the protections will be there for themselves and future generations.

The New Democrat Coalition and Third Way believe we should heed the advice from Bob, Evelyn and so many moderate voters like them and use the 113th Congress to address our nation’s problems with pragmatism, balance and a willingness to compromise to get things done. That means getting our fiscal house in order by increasing revenue, but also ensuring that crucial programs like Social Security and Medicare are on a path that is affordable and sustainable for the long term. It means increasing our country’s exports, especially in Asia, where the greatest opportunity lies to sell American products, while ensuring that we protect the U.S. workers who are affected by new trade markets. It means investing in education but also making sure we’re demanding reforms in our schools to better prepare our students for the competitive 21st-century global economy. It means moving toward a clean energy economy so that we can win the energy race and dominate the $2.3 trillion clean energy market in the future. And it means dealing with our broken immigration system and updating it to bring in skilled people who can help create growth for the U.S. economy.

That’s what the Driscolls and so many like them are looking for, and if Democrats are going to speak to these moderate and independent voters across the country, that’s where we must focus now and in the future.

Rep. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) is chairman of the New Democrat Coalition. Jonathan Cowan is president of Third Way. This piece was originally published in POLITICO