Happy Liberal Halloween

Only eleven days after October 31st, Democrats in Washington are legislating like it’s All Hallows’ Eve. 

Faced with increasingly critical media coverage on the troubled rollout of the Affordable Care Act, Democratic leadership was in a bind at the start of the month. With public confidence in the president’s signature health reform law diminishing, these lawmakers needed a way to change the story. Party elders quickly settled on a new strategy; it was time to hand out liberal policy goodies. 

image

Just weeks after forging a bipartisan agreement to re-open the government and raise the debt ceiling, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid put the Employment Non-Discrimination Act up to a series of votes before the world’s greatest deliberative body. ENDA, which would ban workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity, had been proposed in Congress before, but last received a vote in the Senate in 1996. Along with ten Republicans, the entire Democratic caucus made history when the LGBT rights legislation passed late last week. 

An overwhelming majority of Americans believe that it should be illegal for employers to discriminate against gay men and women, leading this bill to gin up support among the party faithful and earn Democrats a respite from a seemingly endless bad news cycle. 

Immediately after the victory, the U.S. Senate has turned its attention to increasing the federal minimum wage. Senate Democratic leadership plans on bringing a proposal to hike the hourly minimum wage to the floor as early as next week. This is more than just good policy — it’s good politics. Like with ENDA, Democrats are nearly united in their desire to see a raise in the minimum wage; a Gallup survey out November 11th pegged support at 91 percent of the entire party.

While the prospects of surpassing the 60 vote threshold needed to end a Republican filibuster are murky at best, this fight seems tailor-made to appeal to liberals across the country.

According to Politico, the left is also gearing up for a fight with another reliable set of Democratic bogeymen: “corporate jet owners and companies taking tax breaks for CEO stock benefits.” Led by Senator Patty Murray, Democratic negotiators in the ongoing bicameral budget conference have outlined a list of “egregious” tax loopholes favoring corporations and the wealthy that they hope to eliminate. These savings could then be used to offset the deep across-the-board spending cuts of the sequester. The prospect of closing loopholes to alleviate the damage of sequestration is enough to make liberals swoon. And while it is doubtful that Republicans on the panel, led by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, will agree to eliminate loopholes favoring corporations and the wealthy, the debate alone will garner Democrats goodwill from their base.   

So what else do Democrats have up their sleeves? Reid has indicated that another round of nasty confirmation battles is just around the corner. Up first — President Obama’s nominees to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals. One of the nation’s most powerful courts, the D.C. Circuit is often seen as a launching pad to the Supreme Court. In a bid to increase pressure on Senate Republicans earlier this year, President Obama nominated three candidates simultaneously to fill empty seats on the court’s bench. But with the GOP poised to block the nominees, Senate Democrats have another opportunity to delight the party’s base by relaunching time-tested attacks on Republican obstructionism, all the while directing focus away from Obamacare’s woes.

Over at the White House, President Obama’s administration is ramping up its efforts to pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill by the end of the year. To illustrate the White House is actively working on getting a bill passed, the president met with business leaders last week to further discuss his push to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws. In doing so, Obama hopes to ratchet up the pressure on Speaker Boehner and the House GOP to vote on an immigration reform bill before 2014. 

Democrats, along with a majority of Americans, are broadly supportive of a comprehensive approach to reforming America’s immigration policies. This meeting is but one example of the White House’s renewed focus on the issue, and provides yet another avenue to excite the liberal base.

Across Washington, Democrats are seeking to avert attention from the continued problems with the federal government’s health exchange marketplaces towards issues they can win on. As long as Obamacare’s problems do not persist past the end of the month, this strategy has a good shot at settling nerves on Capitol Hill and filling the Democratic sweet-tooth for liberal policy nationwide.