Democrats to push income inequality as top issue of 2014. Winning tactic? (+video)
The Senate will take up extended unemployment benefits Monday as part of a broader Democratic push to focus on issues on income inequality ahead of the 2014 midterm elections.
For months now, it has been clear that Republicans will try to make the 2014 midterm elections all about "Obamacare" as they push to win majority control of the Senate. This week, Democrats will counter in earnest with their election theme. Starting Monday, they will turn to issues of income inequality in a bid not only to rouse their base, but also to win support from middle-class Americans who worry that only the rich are getting richer.Skip to next paragraph
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Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) will try on Monday to clear a legislative hurdle to allow a vote on extending unemployment insurance for 1.3 million long-term jobless Americans whose benefits expired Dec. 28. Look, too, for Senate Democrats to push for a higher federal minimum wage. Democrats are making both efforts against the historic backdrop of President Lyndon Johnson’s “war on poverty,” launched 50 years ago this week in his State of the Union message.
President Obama, meanwhile, will carry the torch further on Jan. 28, when he’ll use his State of the Union address to echo a pre-Christmas speech in which he declared that income inequality and declining social mobility are “the defining challenge of our time.”
It is a political strategy that carries some risks. Some Americans are already wary of Mr. Obama's aims, wondering whether he lied to them – falsely telling them they could keep health insurance plans they liked – in order to win passage of legislation that makes insurance widely available to the poor. Moreover, the inequality issue has the potential to expose a fault line among Democrats, with liberals such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts pushing the party to go much further down the path of federal entitlements and benefits than many others are comfortable going.
So far, the party appears to be stopping short of an Occupy Wall Street revival. Extending long-term unemployment benefits and raising the minimum wage both have majority public support, according to polls. Those polls also reveal a broad unease about the widening income inequality.
But with the Republican base fired up for what is shaping up to be a low-turnout midterm election, the clearest target for Democrats' new push is likely Democratic voters themselves. The question, then, becomes: How far should Democrats go?
“Democrats must be careful in how they frame the issue” of inequality, says John Pitney Jr., a congressional expert at Claremont McKenna College in California. “If voters think that the idea is to redistribute wealth from the middle class to the poor, Democrats will lose badly.”