As House and Senate Republicans were plotting their legislative agenda in Hershey, Pa., Democrat Chris Van Hollen touted his own populist economic plan Thursday morning at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, D.C.
Van Hollen's proposal — new fees on Wall Street to pay for middle-class tax relief — isn't likely to go anywhere on Capitol Hill, at least not in the GOP-controlled 114th Congress. But the Maryland representative and ranking member of the Budget Committee hopes it will at least become a core component of the Democratic Party's messaging ahead of the 2016 elections, especially when presented in contrast to the Republican approach.
"I think Democrats need to go to the country with a very clear agenda that answers the fundamental questions that are on the minds of the American people, which is, 'What are you going to do to grow the economy?' and, 'What are you going to be doing to make sure we have the economy with shared prosperity?'" Van Hollen said at a breakfast with reporters hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. "I think the plan I proposed addresses some of those issues."
Van Hollen's "action plan" unveiled earlier this week features a tax cut of $2,000 a year for couples earning less than $200,000 that would be offset by new financial transaction fees and the elimination of tax breaks for the top 1 percent of earners.
The Van Hollen proposal comes as some moderate Democrats are pushing for the party to move back to the middle after stinging midterm results in November that left Republicans with their largest majority in decades.
Van Hollen has support from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., whom Pelosi tapped late last year to head up the new Policy and Communications Committee, said at a news conference Tuesday that his 15-member group would "embrace" the spirit of Van Hollen's proposal.
He acknowledged he had spoken to the White House about his vision — and advisers who have worked for both Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton, the latter a likely presidential nominee in 2016.
"Secretary Clinton is looking at a whole range of options, should she decide to run, on the economy," Van Hollen said. "I have had conversations with people who have helped formulate economic policy in the Clinton administration and in the current administration. I want to be very clear: I didn't talk to them in their capacity as people who had worked under Clinton ... I talked to a number of people whose views I highly regard."
But Van Hollen has yet to make a formal pitch to his colleagues that his economic plan is one the full caucus should embrace.
"This is a proposal I'm going to be taking to the caucus, and discussing with the caucus as we enter this budget season," Van Hollen told a small group of reporters following the hour-long breakfast discussion. "So, we'll see. There's a lot of support from members one-on-one, but we'll be discussing this further, for example, at our issues conference."
When House Democrats huddle in Philadelphia at the end of the month for their annual retreat, reflecting on the bruising election results of 2014 and plotting a strategy for not repeating the same mistakes in 2016 will likely be a key topic of discussion. Many members were disgruntled with a perceived lack of soul-searching and accountability among the Democratic leadership, and the caucus has generally been experiencing some angst over what needs to get done differently to pick up seats in two years and beyond.
Van Hollen and his allies will have to make a strong argument that the plan is coherent and compelling. They will also have to prove that it can play well all around the country and help the majority of House Democrats in their districts; a criticism of the policy platform of the 2014 cycle was that leaders were pushing a "one-size fits all" message that did not resonate across-the-board.
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