Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Mich.) rallies with restaurant workers and owners outside the U.S. Capitol on February 8, 2022 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Why Should Progressives Embrace a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights? Because They Already Do

Progressives need to make clear to the American people that they have a cohesive economic program for the country—one that the American People want.

The media has failed to recognize the significance of progressive elected officials' legislative proposals. Looking to redeem the nation's promise of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, progressives have advanced bills in Congress that would cultivate a new economic social contract for America. With the Democratic party facing potentially devastating losses in 2022 and 2024--and the majority of Americans yearning for progressive transformations--we need to make our political aspirations and projected initiatives powerfully clear.

Polls consistently show, the majority of Americans across the country want to see Congress turn the central features of the progressive economic agenda into laws, policies, and programs.

We recently issued a call for all progressive candidates and officeholders to embrace a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights. We now make the case that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party essentially has already done so. Indeed, herein we show how legislation introduced by Democratic progressives in the current Congress clearly matches up with the roster of economic rights we have proposed.

This is a critically essential point to make at this very moment. Many excellent progressive candidates are challenging centrist/neoliberal/corporate Democrats across the country in a primary season that kicks into full gear over the next month. Like their allies in Congress, these progressive candidates support policies that add up to our envisioned 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights--and as polls consistently show, the majority of Americans across the country want to see Congress turn the central features of the progressive economic agenda into laws, policies, and programs.

Unfortunately, the public is largely unaware that progressives prioritize this economic program. The powerful right-wing media/propaganda machine persistently portrays progressives as primarily focused on "fighting the culture wars"--something that both Republicans and economically-conservative Democrats, such as Bill Maher, are all too happy to amplify.

However, when you look at the actual legislative record, it becomes crystal clear that improving the economic conditions for poor, working, and middle-class Americans is a top priority for progressives. This is evident not only from the wide range of bills introduced by progressives in this Congress (see the list below), but also from the protracted negotiations over Build Back Better, during which progressives fought tirelessly for the economic interests of average Americans.

It is no mystery why the GOP and neo-liberal Democrats work overtime to misrepresent progressives as "cancel-culture" extremists. It polls terribly; and, in the hands of the corporate media, serves to alienate working class communities from each other (the good old-fashioned divide and conquer strategy). Just as importantly, these misrepresentations hide the fact that only progressives have an economic agenda that articulates the interests and aspirations of the vast majority of the American people. It is incumbent upon progressives to set the record straight.

So, here is our 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights, followed by the legislation recently introduced by progressives in the 117th Congress that addresses each of the ten rights.

1. The right to a useful job that pays a living wage.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley's resolution for a federal job guarantee brought back into focus the historic demand for the right to employment with a clear statement of vision and principles. Pressley explicitly draws on "the legacy and work of generations of Black women in the Civil Rights Movement" such as Coretta Scott King to affirm the role of the federal job guarantee in achieving true full employment, no longer allowing businesses to rely on the "reserve army of labor" to discipline workers across the economy.

This legislation is of special importance to us. A universal job guarantee, backed up by the federal government serving as an employer of last resort, promising jobs at a living wage (and the same health care coverage as all Federal workers), is a perfect anchor for a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights.

2. The right to a voice in the workplace through a union and collective bargaining.

Rep. Bobby Scott's Protect the Right to Organize (PRO) Act would be the most important pro-worker labor law reform since the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) of 1935. It would end so-called "right-to-work" laws, legalize secondary strikes, modernize union elections, provide independent contractors the right to collectively bargain, and create meaningful penalties for employers who violate their workers' rights.

3. The right to comprehensive quality health care.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal's Medicare for All Act currently has 121 House co-sponsors, a majority of the House Democratic caucus. Medicare for All was the flagship policy of Sen. Bernie Sanders' 2016 and 2020 presidential runs and remains the gold standard policy approach for guaranteeing the right to health care, free at the point of service, for all citizens and residents of the USA.

Further, the Build Back Better Act's Universal Paid Family and Medical Leave provision, championed and defended by progressives, would have guaranteed "12 weeks of paid family and medical leave annually to all workers in the US." A pared down version of this provision was passed by the House, is supported by President Biden, but languishes in the Senate due to opposition from anti-progressive Democratic Senators Joe Manchin and Krysten Sinema to the entire Build Back Better reconciliation package.

4. The right to a complete cost-free public education and access to broadband internet.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal's College for All Act would eliminate tuition and fees at public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 and make community college free for all. (The authors would propose going a step further, echoing Bernie Sanders 2020 presidential campaign, by guaranteeing a college education as a legal right for all, like public K-12 education, rather than means-testing it and unnecessarily creating a wealthy counter-constituency.)

Rep. Jamaal Bowman's Green New Deal for Public Schools Act would make unprecedented investments in U.S. public schools to decarbonize the facilities, expand staffing and social service programming, and transform public education toward a "whole child" approach. The visionary legislation makes clear how guaranteeing the economic right to a meaningful public education is part and parcel for also reaching the U.S.'s climate goals.

Rep. James Clyburn's Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act addresses the "digital divide" by making historic investments in deploying high-speed broadband infrastructure. (The authors believe we should go further: that this public infrastructure should deliver free internet access at the point of service rather than unnecessarily creating a cost barrier.)

5. The right to decent, safe, affordable housing.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Green New Deal for Public Housing Act would contribute to the vision of a right to housing by modernizing the U.S.'s public housing stock and repealing the Faircloth amendment, which arbitrarily caps the amount of public housing allowed (this repeal is also a part of the currently proposed Build Back Better Act).

In the last Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar introduced the Homes for All Act, which would fund the construction of 9.5 million public housing units and 2.5 million private market affordable housing units over 10 years.

6. The right to a clean environment and a healthy planet.

Now we come to one of the most important set of bills because much of the progressive economic program is being presented in Congress under the heading of a Green New Deal.

Why is this? American society--our modern, industrialized, technological society--has been designed around fossil fuel use, which is the root cause of the unfolding climate catastrophe. Therefore, we need to remake, reconfigure, or retrofit just about everything--and that means jobs, and it requires economic policy. The Green New Deal proposals address this historical necessity in a way that perfectly fits with our 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights.

Unfortunately, the right-wing and the fossil fuel industry's propaganda machinery has been working overtime attacking the Green New Deal, such that much of the public only hears the "Green" environmental component of the programs and have become deaf to their "New Deal" economic focus. Once again, it is incumbent upon progressives to foreground how the Green New Deal programs also represent a new economic social contract for Americans, one that is very popular.

Currently, the Green New Deal Pledge asks candidates to endorse ten bills. The two mentioned above by Reps. Bowman and Ocasio-Cortez, respectively. There are also the following six bills, which directly address economic policies:

The final two bills included in the Green New Deal Pledge Rep. Ilhan Omar's End Polluter Welfare Act and Rep. Jared Huffman's Keep it in the Ground Act are also relevant as they would end the outrageous annual subsidies provided by the Federal government to fossil fuel companies, money that can help fund our environmental and economic agenda. Similarly, Rep. Earl Blumenauer's excellent Climate Emergency Bill frees up funding for disaster mitigation and response, and support for frontline communities.

Lastly, Rep. Jan Schakowsky's Manufacturing Reinvestment Corporation Act calls for the inclusion of climate and environmental justice advocates on regional boards tasked with expanding American manufacturing capacity as we transition off of fossil fuels and onto renewable energy.

7. The right to a meaningful endowment of resources at birth, and a secure retirement.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley's American Opportunity Accounts Act, or the "baby bonds" proposal popularized by economists William Darity and Darrick Hamilton, which is widely considered one of the most effective policies toward addressing the racial wealth gap. This would provide every child with a $1,000 savings accounts upon birth and the federal government would thereafter deposit up to $2,000 annually, depending on the child's household income, until they gain access at 18.

Similarly, progressives strongly supported the $300 or $250 monthly "tax credits" paid directly to households with children, which was part of the 2021 Relief Act--and progressives strongly opposed the ending of these payments in early 2022.

Since the Social Security system is one of the few still existing realizations of President Franklin Roosevelt's initial Economic Bill of Rights, the concern today is to ensure that right remains meaningfully guaranteed and expanded. Rep. John Larson's legislation, Social Security 2100: A Sacred Trust, would significantly improve the Social Security system for beneficiaries and help resolve the arbitrary insolvency crisis currently foisted onto the system.

8. The right to sound banking and financial services.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand's Postal Banking Act would grant post offices the power to provide basic retail banking services to the public. As the only federal institution with local branches in every zip code across the country, the U. S. Postal Service is uniquely positioned to administer this economic right and end the "two-tiered" system of payday loans, check-cashing businesses, and pawnshops.

Rep. Lynch's recent Electronic Currency and Secure Hardware (ECASH) Act would develop an electronic version of the U.S. Dollar for use by the public. By creating a form of digital cash designed to preserve the anonymity and token-like qualities of physical cash, this legislation is a key component of ensuring the future of the financial system protects currency users from surveillance while furthering the goal of financial inclusion.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib's's Public Banking Act would provide the federal regulatory and capital support for proliferating the development of publicly-owned banks across the U.S. By having a meaningful public banking sector mandated for public purpose rather than profit, every American will be able to fairly utilize non-extractive commercial banking services.

9. The right to an equitable and economically fair justice system

Rep. Ayanna Pressley's resolution calling for a People's Justice Guarantee re-envisions the criminal legal system toward justice for all. It specifically calls for prioritizing decarceration and dramatically reducing jail and prison populations, eliminating wealth-based discrimination and corporate profiteering, transforming the experience of confinement, and investing in historically impacted communities. Pressley's vision is aligned with our own, and Congressmembers who believe in a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights should continue to advance legislation that turns this into reality, such as some of the following below:

Rep. David Cicilline's Equality Act would prohibit discrimination of LGBTQ+ people in areas of employment, education, credit, jury service, federal funding, housing, and public accommodations. Just as federal action was imperative in the 1960s to combat state-level segregation and racism, federal action is essential today for guaranteeing the civil rights of LGBTQ+ people to be able to fully participate in economic life.

Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman's Drug Policy Reform Act would decriminalize drug possession and expunge the records of people who had been wrongly incarcerated, including reversing the life-long consequences of drug arrests. This would be a meaningful step toward an end to the so-called War on Drugs, which since its inception has been a domestic occupation and surveillance program of low-income communities not aiming toward any modicum of public safety.

Rep. Ayanna Pressley's Ending Qualified Immunity Act would end qualified immunity for law enforcement and government employees that allow them to escape civil penalties for violating people's civil rights.

Rep. Ted Lieu's No Money Bail Act would prohibit the use of money bail in federal criminal cases and incentivize states to also no longer use a racist/classist money bail system.

Rep. Henry Johnson Jr.'s Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act would restrict the Department of Defense from transferring surplus military equipment to law enforcement agencies.

The core of progressives in Congress are unified around an economic program, one which is very popular with the American people.

This seems like the proper time to mention that we added two new rights to the 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights since our previous article--so that we now match the original Bill of Rights with ten. We added one right by splitting the first right into numbers one and two, as we felt both parts deserved their own entry (see above). Then, we added this economic right (#9) because, to paraphrase Leonard Cohen, everybody knows the rich are not accountable before the law in the same way as the poor--just as everyone knows we have a racist justice system. Those oppressive realities have to change.

10. The right to recreation and participation in civic and democratic life.

The United States is unique among rich industrialized countries in not guaranteeing paid vacation time. It's hard to imagine how a worker can find time to pursue their hobbies, let alone enjoy their life on earth without having vacation days. We therefore applaud Bernie Sanders' Guaranteed Paid Vacation Act, even though we support a greater number of vacation days than the legislation proposes.

Rep. Anna Eshoo's Election Day Holiday Act makes the Tuesday that follows the first Monday of November a Federal Holiday, making it easier for workers to vote.

Rep. John Sarbanes' For the People Act is Democrats' comprehensive legislation to improve the U.S.'s electoral system. The bill expands voter registration and voting access, requires independent redistricting commissions, secures election technology, addresses campaign finance and creates a public financing option, creates new ethics requirements for federal elected officials, and requires presidential candidates to disclose 10 years of tax returns. Because of Sen. Manchin and Sinema's refusal to allow this legislation to advance, it currently languishes in the Senate.

Rep. Terri Sewell's John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore key elements of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act after being stripped by the Supreme Court. With the 2020 election's electoral legitimacy crisis and subsequent efforts by Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country to limit the right to vote, the bill provides urgent legislative changes to protect minority voters' rights.

So, there you have it: an avalanche of recent legislation in support of the tenets of our 21st Century of Economic Bill of Rights.

Of course, a few of these bills do not reflect the ideal content of each of the proposed economic rights. Future work will be necessary to turn the current versions into genuine legal rights for all Americans.

It's also worth noting that not every Bill listed above was introduced by a progressive, though the large majority were. Still, every one of these Bills, and the policies they propose, are supported by progressives--and much of the legislation featured in this article is only supported by progressives.

This signifies two very important things:

1. The core of progressives in Congress are unified around an economic program, one which is very popular with the American people

2. Thus, whether they know it yet or not, progressives support a 21st Century Economic Bill of Rights

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