I appreciate JZ’s addition to my proposed Democratic agenda below. A brief response.
a) My basic principle is to bring up nothing in this Congress, if possible, that splits Democrats in any significant way. There are multiple reasons for this. First, the Democrats’ majority is now large, and there are a significant number of Blue Dogs in it. Ambitious programs (like Jonathan’s card check proposal and expansions of health care coverage) will have to wait until the Democrats’ ranks in Congress are supplemented in 2008, as I believe they will be. Second, the point here is to show that the Democrats are capable of governing, of passing sensible, widely accepted legislation, thereby reinforcing the impression that they can be trusted, unlike the other guys.
b) Part of the point here is to keep the list short and avoid measures that have a lot of messy factual complication to them (like health care expansion). All the measures I identified are relatively simple and send very clear messages. Anything that doesn’t should wait until Democrats have a larger majority and have gained at least a small buffer of public trust by governing sensibly.
c) I’ll gladly add Jonathan’s “abortion reduction” agenda to my list, which fits my criteria and also sends a worthwhile signal to pro-life Democrats (including Casey) that the party isn’t just going to take their vote to organize Congress and then give them the finger.
d) As a matter of policy I think CAFE standards are not the way to go. I also think that it gets you into fairly complex policy territory. There’s also an argument that a Democrat could run in 2008 by linking energy policy and health care, using an expansion of the gas tax (or a BTU tax, which is even better) to pay for universal health care. That’s a risk, but it’s one you can make if you can plausibly claim a mandate.
e) I should also add that as a political matter, I think expanding health care to children is the wrong way to go. It gets over some political obstacles in the present (since kids are sympathetic and relatively cheap to cover) but it also gets rid of one of the most attractive public faces of the health care coverage issue. So far as I know, no country has ever moved toward universal coverage one demographic group at a time–arguably, that was THE great mistake the U.S. made by starting with coverage of the elderly (as opposed to Canada, which started by covering hospitalization and moved on from there). This is a good case where there is a significant wedge between short-term and long-term rationality. I’m holding out for the long term. There’s also good evidence that expansions of CHIP don’t actually lead to greater coverage, since they are followed by reductions in employer coverage. In the end, the only way to avoid all this chasing your tail is to make a big jump to universal coverage–preferably by euthanizing the role of employers (which also frees up money currently spent on tax subsidies).