A Covenant With America

Newt, your 1994 “Contract with America” helped win Congress for Republicans, but as subsequent history has shown, it did less than nothing for America. The nation is in deep trouble, and today's congressional Republicans are as unpopular as congressional Dems were then.

Here's a 10-point manifesto that, if followed, may both win Congress back for Democrats and get the nation back on a path toward true prosperity, peace, and progress. Eat your heart out.

1. Competence. We promise America a competent government headed by people with expertise and experience. We will never appoint or confirm cronies whose main qualification for office is personal connection or party loyalty.

2. Fiscal responsibility and a capital budget. We will get the federal budget back under control by barring special spending (pork to political loyalists back home) and corporate welfare (subsidies to particular industries like agribusiness, oil, and pharmaceuticals). We will create a national “capital budget” so that federal construction money never again goes to bridges to nowhere in Alaska and instead goes to stronger levees in New Orleans.

3. Fighting terrorism and getting out of Iraq. We will fight terrorism with a strong military and with economic investments and aid for poor nations that are often the breeding grounds for terrorism. But we will withdraw American troops from Iraq. As even our generals now tell us, our presence there is incubating new terrorists and fomenting anti-Americanism around the world.

4. Ending torture and respecting the rule of law. We will respect the Geneva Conventions. We will never condone torture or keep people imprisoned indefinitely without due process of law.

5. Reducing oil dependence and greenhouse gases. We will reduce American dependence on oil and reduce global warming. By 2020, 20 percent of our energy will come from solar, wind, biomass, and other alternative sources. Also by 2020, America will utilize 20-percent less fuel than today.

6. Restoring the middle class. We will restore the growth of the American middle class and of middle-class incomes. Supply-side economics, which rewards the rich with generous tax breaks and tells us that the resulting economic growth will “trickle down” to everyone else, has proven a cruel hoax. Little or nothing is trickling down. A quarter of all the benefits of economic growth now go to the richest one-tenth of 1 percent of Americans. We are determined to reverse course.

7. A progressive tax code. The cost of making the nation's homeland secure against terrorism and natural disasters and of providing adequate health care and education -- without falling deeper into debt -- will require more federal revenue. Yet the middle class cannot afford more taxes. It's time for the rich to bear their fair share. We will impose a surtax of one-tenth of 1 percent per year on net worth in excess of $1 million and will roll back the administration's tax cuts for those earning more than $300,000 a year.

8. A minimum health-care wage. The cost of health insurance for the typical family is rising by double digits, while 46 million Americans are without insurance altogether. We will establish a simple “minimum health-care wage” offering basic health insurance -- one free checkup per year, five free medical visits, one free dental, choice of doctor or dentist limited to an approved list, free drugs up to $1,000 per year -- to any American wishing to join. The expected large scale of this program will give government bargaining leverage to get low prices from providers and drug companies.

9. Lifelong education through progressive vouchers and re-employment insurance. We will finance every K-14 student (that's right -- two years beyond high school) with a progressive voucher in an amount inversely related to family income. (This year, for example, it would range from $15,000 for students from families at or below the poverty line to $3,000 for students from families in the wealthiest 10 percent.) The vouchers could be used at any publicly certified school. In addition, we will turn the unemployment insurance system into a “re-employment insurance system.” Recipients will get job training, job-search assistance, and, if the new job pays less than the old, wage insurance paying half the difference for a year.

10. Maintain separation of church and state. We will never allow religion to dictate whether an individual must be kept on life support, young people can gain access to birth-control information or counseling, women will have the freedom to choose to terminate a pregnancy, research can be done on stem cells or any other potential scientific innovation, or public schools must teach nonscientific interpretations of sacred texts.

Robert B. Reich is co-founder of The American Prospect.

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