Happy Martin Luther King Day! If you furthered progressive causes the last couple years, even if all you did was vote for Democratic candidates, you should congratulate yourself for contributing to the best year for progressive legislation since the death of Rev. King.
The new SCHIP law covers 4 million additional children. I could make the case that these SCHIP improvements mean this Congress has passed the most important progressive health legislation since 1968. But why bother? A health reform bill will be passed this month or next and that will dwarf even the SCHIP expansion. Under the Senate bill, 31 million people will gain access to health insurance, a staggering achievement. The health reform bill will be the most important progressive legislation passed since Rev. King's death, in any category, bar none.
The House has already passed what would arguably be the most important environmental legislation ever, a bill to combat global warming. And there's still a pretty good chance the Senate will pass similar legislation. But even without those bills, we could celebrate higher fuel efficiency standards for cars and a new attitude toward transportation funding that makes it easier for localities to spend money on transit, walking and biking. Much money was set aside for clean energy projects, including $11 billion to improve our electrical grid.
And then there was the trillion-dollar stimulus bill which saved or created at least one million jobs (.pdf). Not since the New Deal has the federal government intervened so generously to keep us earning a paycheck. And if you're out of work, your unemployment benefits may last for as long as 99 weeks, an unprecedented extension of the usual 26-week term.
In foreign policy, President Obama has significantly improved America's standing in the world by building alliances. His Nobel Prize attests to that.
Sure, the stimulus was too small. The health reform bill should have included a Medicare buy-in. And, yeah, the global warming legislation is only a first step toward solving this problem. We still have huge military commitments in Afghanistan and Iraq, too.
But this Congress and this president are delivering on the progressive agenda better than any team since 1968, when Rev. King was taken away from us. Sadly, progressives in Congress are almost all in one political party. What ails the progressive movement and the Democratic Party can best be ameliorated by simply electing more progressive Democrats and, where that's difficult, just more Democrats.
This was a great year in Washington for the causes Martin Luther King championed. Disappointing and unsatisfactory at times? Sure. Is there much still to be done? Oh, yes, so much more. But since MLK's last birthday, the United States has sworn in our first African-American president, surely a testament to the civil rights leader's work. And to ours. And to our progressive leaders in Congress. Let's keep supporting that progressive team as they try-- sometimes just falling short of our hopes & dreams and sometimes trying in vain-- to govern in a manner Rev. King would be proud of.