America’s Cabinet: Our Bold Ideas

These bold ideas were developed by members of America’s cabinet in conjunction with experts, allies and advisors from across the country. Fundamentally, our approach is informed by our experiences as local and state elected officials. While these policies address national and international issues, our unique orientation is toward our constituents back home. We have witnessed first-hand the challenges being faced in community after community from Maine to California and from Minnesota to Texas. From the stories of hard working families, we have forged local policy ideas that we have worked to turn into laws and now we are bringing our ideas to the national stage. Washington is failing every day Americans, and our commitment is to do something about that. We hope these 10 solutions-oriented ideas will help us all remember what bold constructive leadership can do for all Americans.

Index

  1. Health Security
  2. Combat sexual harassment and discrimination
  3. Manufacturing Moonshot
  4. Ownership America
  5. Green Schools for All
  6. Employee Voice
  7. Corrections transition
  8. World Class Infrastructure
  9. Family Re-investment
  10. Middle Out Economics

1. Health Security

Guarantee for all Americans affordable, quality health coverage so they can lead long, enjoyable and productive lives by expanding public health plan options.

Already, 42% of children and 94% of seniors have government coverage. Medicare, Medicaid, CHIP, and the VA’s health care system are all highly rated by the tens of millions of Americans who use them. At the same time, there is a dissatisfaction with private insurers and a desire for more simplicity, security, and affordability.

We should guarantee that every American can participate in Medicare and Medicaid. Currently, Medicare Advantage and Medicaid managed care plans are private plans delivering services within a government framework. Private plans could also be given access to Medicare provider payment rates at significantly lower costs. Additionally, if we then allow Medicare to negotiate for drug prices the way the VHA does, its massive procurement power could result in paying 80 percent less for brand name drugs, saving as much as $16 billion annually – and that’s only using the clout of the program’s 57 million beneficiaries it has today. This would also be a shot in the arm for entrepreneurs and small businesses, who provide health-related benefits for their employees.

If we’re not strong, physically and mentally, no other policy idea will matter as we won’t be able to enjoy the benefits. Hospitals and doctors must be accessible, just as we must have the capacity to find cures to diseases and solve other health challenges. Each of us deserves this basic guarantee and our country can’t afford to do otherwise.

We are ready for this. More than 70 percent of Americans somewhat or strongly favor allowing 55- to 64-year-olds to buy into Medicare if they have no other coverage. And, among Republicans, opposition to government health care has dropped nine percentage points since 2013, from 75 percent to 66 percent.

2. Combat sexual harassment and discrimination

Adopt an all hands-on-deck approach across the federal government, ensuring that our government is a safe and fair place for women to work.

Given the blatant pattern of sexual assault that has been revealed in the last year and that has caused too many to suffer in silence for far too long, the federal government must take a comprehensive approach to preventing it and holding perpetrators accountable. From mandatory training for both members of Congress and staff to ending the use of tax dollars for settlements against government officials to banning the mandatory arbitration clauses from employment contracts for federal contractors that silence victims – every agency should get its house in order and use the full extent of its reach to combat this gross injustice.

This could also include creating an investigative unit within the Department of Justice, or revising the occupational safety and health standards enforced by the Department of Labor. The Department of Labor should also look at industry-wide trends and map out best practices and set standardized protections for all sectors.

Finally, we must have qualified women make up at half of the Cabinet (up from 20 percent in the current Cabinet) and increase the number of US Attorneys who are women (Trump has nominated 41 men and one woman for this position) so we hit a tipping point for real cultural change.

It’s clear: a comprehensive approach across the federal government is a necessity to end sexual harassment against women within the halls of our government and across our nation.

3. Manufacturing Moonshot

Help grow small/medium size companies by committing to secure the supply chain here at home for all our defense and adjacent industry needs.

Over the past two decades, the manufacturing sector as a whole has experienced erosion across many industries. While firms with more than $1 billion in assets have achieved significantly higher revenue growth and returns on invested capital, it is small and mid-sized firms all across the country who have experienced negative growth.

There is an opportunity right before our eyes to remedy this and do so much more if we transform how the Department of Defense and our military conducts procurement negotiations and contract pricing. Currently, our nation’s small and mid-sized firms are left to fend for themselves in orphaned supply chains.  Business development and competitiveness are not encouraged leading to a lack of innovation, growth, and productivity amongst these firms. It’s imperative that we reimagine the spend and procurement of the US Military to ensure the long-term security of our domestic supply chain and help our small and mid-sized firms become increasingly competitive.

This will require a significant influx of patient public and private funds that will seek respectable returns over the long term while generating quality jobs that provide at or above median income for hundreds of thousands of Americans. The government will need to make this market and support it through the creation of a manufacturing investment bank with an implied federal guarantee and a tax benefit for long-term private investors.

In addition to stimulating long-term investment, we will also need to create a nationally coordinated plan for worker training and readiness and technology upgrades for our facilities for this strategy to work.

We can further re-invigorate our manufacturing sector by helping to open foreign markets for goods we are once again able to produce, giving us the ability to compete on the global stage. In order for our companies to compete, we must regulate high wage and environmental standards globally so that our companies are not undercut in the global market and the high quality of American goods is valued.

If we pursue this “all of the above” approach, we could set ourselves on a path to reach 2 million new quality jobs in manufacturing by 2025 and ensure the equipment, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, weapons and supplies we need to keep America safe are all made here at home.

4. Ownership America

Create a path toward home ownership and affordable housing for residents of public housing by partnering with building trades unions to provide quality employment opportunities paired with home loan access.

Based on a model piloted with the New York Housing Authority, the renovation and repair work done on public housing facilities will be done exclusively by union signatory contractors. These contractors will have approved apprenticeship programs in place and commit to hiring significant numbers of public housing residents into apprenticeship slots on a path to becoming skilled journeymen doing union work.

With 1.2 million public housing units in America and 2 million residents and a capital budget of $1.3 billion, there is enormous capacity to train and put to work hundreds of thousands of lower income housing residents, and in doing so, move them into positions of greater economic stability.

If we build a road to meaningful employment, we create the space for a stronger partnership between HUD, Treasury, and CFPB to join with the Federal Home Loan Banking system to develop a pathway to homeownership and affordable housing that helps Americans build wealth. As a result, public housing, for many, is a stepping stone to quality employment and home ownership. Through the home loan banking system, we would also ensure that families are able to retain ownership from one generation to the next as property taxes and maintenance costs increase as a result of gentrification and other factors.

5. Green Schools for All

Develop a national green schools infrastructure program to build and renovate green schools across the country, feed our students through farm-to-school programs, and create quality local employment opportunities for parents.

Across the nation, school infrastructure is physically and technologically out of date. The average public school building is nearly 50 years old and 9,400 schools still fall short of minimum bandwidth goals for internet connectivity. Too many of our schools still lack safe playground equipment and a safe walking route to school. To upgrade our current school infrastructure to use clean energy, non-toxic caulking and other LEED certification criteria, will require budgeting and investing in renewable energy building projects. We absolutely have to address the mediocre environmental quality of our schools.

To go one step further, all of this would still not give us the number of classrooms we need to achieve a class size that allows for top notch learning. Studies show that a smaller classroom size, is a key determinant in student success as learners. To provide smaller class sizes for public school students today would mean we need thousands of new classrooms in public schools across the country – not to mention the dire need for new teachers who are supported to prioritize the growth and development of young people.

We should also implement farm-to-school programs nationwide so that small farms can sell their products directly to major purchasers, like educational institutions, because our students deserve quality, healthy food options and stabilizing family farming must be a priority. With 51 percent of American students eligible for free or reduced lunch, we must expand eligibility to make sure that all our students get a quality, healthy meal. In the Portland Public School System, a procurement program like this was able to source 30% of all food purchases from local farms and serves 100% locally sourced whole-grain bread at every meal. Students are eating healthier and the school is supporting smaller family farms in the surrounding area at an increase in city investment of only $0.07 per meal.

This infrastructure program to build and renovate thousands of school buildings across the country and feed our students from local farms should include a commitment to local employment opportunities with a preference given to parents of students in those schools. If those parents were the ones trained and given access to these quality jobs then many of these parents’ incomes would rise meaningfully and with it their ability to support an education-oriented home life. This is crucial as one of the most solid data points we have seen over the last century is that that parent education and income predicts school performance, not exclusively but quite disproportionately.

6. Employee Voice

Pilot a program that requires companies to include front line employee voices on their board if the company seeks to do business with the government or benefits from public subsidies.

In several industries, we have come to know that input from front line workers with knowledge of how production really works is key for companies to innovate and compete. Yet we have continued to have a significant blind spot when it comes to worker voices at the tables where corporate and business strategy decisions are made. In order to address this weakness, the Department of Labor will develop a framework to encourage experimentation, including making small grants, in this area.

Beginning with city and state-level pilots, municipalities will get support to create mandates requiring companies that meet specific criteria to have employee representatives serve on their boards. For companies doing business with the State or Local government, or benefiting from subsidies or beneficial tax consideration, the governing entity many require the company to have worker representation on their board. States will also be given latitude to require companies housed in their jurisdiction to require similar worker representation.

Despite the rhetoric that separates “knowledge” work from “manual labor,” we know that often if is through the “doing” that new strategy and innovation is developed. We must invest in the knowledge, experience and point of view of front line workers if we are to compete going forward.

7. Corrections transition

We will reinvent the criminal justice system to focus on rehabilitation rather than retribution by improving prison conditions and investing in professional development to meet the expectations of modern day corrections officers.

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. With only 5% of the world’s population, we hold more than 25% of its prisoners (2.3 million people). America now has roughly the same number of people with criminal records as it does four-year college graduates. Today, nearly 1/3 of the adult working age population has a criminal record, and 67% of those who are incarcerated are arrested again within 3 years of their release. We will only get a handle on the crisis of recidivism if the conditions of confinement and the role of corrections officers are updated, understood and invested in.

To that end, there is broad consensus that changes are needed system wide. On the front end, prisons have become a landing ground for Americans with serious mental health issues and others who could be diverted to another option. On the backend, we do not give formerly incarcerated people anywhere near the support they need to succeed once they reenter society (even though 95% of incarcerated individuals will eventually be released). Frequently unaddressed is the role that conditions inside prisons play with respect to the rate of recidivism. This is an issue that involves both incarcerated individuals and corrections officers and other staff.

As we pursue sustainable corrections reform we must end the practice of overcrowding and utilize prison cells to house only the number of incarcerated individuals they were built to hold, rather than double or triple, which has become too common. Just as student to teacher ratios and nurse to patient ratios have been set for the mutual benefits of all parties, it is time that a federal standard be set and enforced for officer to incarcerated individual ratios. We must also entirely revise food standards, eliminate the use of private food vendors and recommit to food quality as a basic right.

Finally, many training programs for those who are incarcerated have proven to teach real skills that lead to success back home when they are run fully, thoroughly and consistently. To do this requires adequate staffing levels, more competitive salaries, and specialized training for officers and staff so they are able to perform the many functions now required of modern day corrections officers. This specialized training includes: mental health counseling, job readiness coaching, drug rehabilitation, and public safety. It is time to create and enforce national officer training standards as well as a career ladder for officers so they can evolve with the evolution of the system.

These are key steps we must take if we are serious about creating safe, humane correctional facilities and reducing recidivism overall.

8. World Class Infrastructure

By investing in rebuilding our decaying infrastructure and hiring the best trained skilled trades workers to do it alongside a new generation of service recruits, we can get America back on track.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, American infrastructure will need more than $3.6 trillion in investment by 2020 in order to serve a growing population and keep systems up to date. With crumbling roads, railways, bridges, and pipes, often inaccessible modes of transportation for products and people, and insecure power grids and broadband, a lack of investment leaves the U.S. vulnerable to losing its edge in global competition and significantly damaging American quality of life and prosperity. Given that federal infrastructure investment is at roughly half of what it was 35 years ago as a share of the economy, greater investment is required to both prevent further deterioration and advance US economic growth in the 21st century.

As of 2012, infrastructure jobs employed 11 percent of American workers. These jobs, compared to the national average, tend to pay over 30 percent more to lower-wage workers and are accessible to the two-thirds of U.S. workers who lack a bachelor’s degree. Brookings projects a need to replace nearly 25% of the existing infrastructure workforce as a result of retirements and other shifts.

To meet this need we envision a three-pronged approach – growing union partnerships, recruiting from among the un- and underemployed, and the expansion of U.S national service options in addition to programs such as VISTA and AmeriCorps. In this model, the U.S. Military would serve as linchpin for scaling this effort. Targeted at young Americans across the socio-economic divide, both women and men, recruits would enlist for two years of national service, through the U.S. Military, to help strengthen American infrastructure and meet local needs. In exchange for their service, recruits would receive:

  • Education benefits modeled off of AmeriCorps and the GI Bill to make access to higher education free at any of our nation’s great public universities and therefore within grasp;
  • Skill building including a path towards skilled trades certification and standing as a union journeyman in their chosen trade;
  • Two years of work experience; and,
  • Post-service benefits such as home loans, pensions, life insurance, etc.
  • A shared sense of our national civic culture
  • Experience meeting an important local need (FEMA, disaster relief, etc)

Unions would serve as natural partners in this model in quite a few ways. First, unions could provide the necessary training for recruits based on their industry. Additionally, recruits will need to be managed in their apprenticeships, and seasoned union members could fill the role of senior foremen and mentors in applicable industries.

9. Family Re-investment

Promote Universal Family Care to support families with child and eldercare needs and professionalize the care industry so that our loved ones receive quality care.

Many Americans today are part of what is known as the “sandwich generation” with responsibilities to care both for young children and aging parents. The percentage of Americans who are sandwiched is growing as our older adults live longer and longer (which is a good thing!). By 2030, 20% of the US population will be over the age of 65. And the 10 million adults who are estimated to be in need of long-term care is expected to grow dramatically.

What we need is a care infrastructure that will cover all types of care to support families and people of all abilities to work and live well at every stage of life. For a sustainable solution, we also need a well-trained, appropriately compensated care workforce that can support our families.

Family Care Fund: As with Social Security and other social insurance models, each of us and our employers would chip into the fund and draw on the benefits when we need them. The program would be flexible and portable so people across every income bracket could access their benefits from job to job. Families could draw from the fund to pay for childcare so they could reenter the workforce full-time or pay for a qualified caregiver to care for an aging parent during a recovery from a fall so they could stay at work and not need to prematurely move their parent into a nursing home.

Professionalization of the Care Workforce: The care workforce, including nannies for children and in-home caregivers for older adults and people with disabilities, works long and unpredictable hours for low wages and usually without benefits. Universal Family Care must be designed to ensure professional childcare and eldercare workers have good, sustainable jobs with training, benefits and protections. This also includes providing a path to citizenship for undocumented caregivers, through the creation of a highly vetted specialized visa program, to protect the well-being of consumers, families, and employers who depend on these workers amidst a rapidly growing labor shortage.

10. Middle Out Economics

We must reinvent our antiquated labor law system to reflect the changing nature of work, support our democratic values, and promote the freedom of individuals to associate as they choose.

If we want to build a strong middle-class we must have a strong labor movement. Elected officials who are hostile to our values know to attack unions and we must move boldly to grow them. Meanwhile, the nature of work is changing with the expansion of the gig economy with diminished worker protections. Here are some ideas for how to reinvent the labor law system:

  • Reform the NLRA so that penalties for anti-union activity by employers are more expensive and maybe even criminal against the individual – like election tampering;
  • Simplify union elections into a one-step confidential process;
  • Require union avoidance firms to register like lobbyists do and meet a much higher standard of disclosures;
  • Create a system that allows non-majority groups of workers to bargain with their employers;
  • Encourage and preference, much like we do for MWBE firms, union representation and apprenticeship programs at companies that seek to contract with the federal government.

America’s Cabinet may not be an immediate fix to the woes that are plaguing our nation in these very trying times. But, in offering these bold policy ideas we hope to encourage more productive dialogue that will lead to policy changes that move our country forward.

While some will cynically seek to argue that we can’t afford many of these new initiatives, it is ideology not fiscal responsibility that undergirds their arguments. The recent tax “reform” is evidence enough of that sad truth.

Regardless, from the continuing low interest rates to the large capital reserves in private hands, from the potential increased tax revenues from high rates of employment and lower rates of underemployment to the reduced burden on the safety net, these 10 proposals will more than pay for themselves. On some level we can’t afford the cost of inaction as Americans fall further behind and grow more fed up with Washington. We must invest in our future. It is what we, as a nation, have always done.

 

 

[3] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2017/12/08/the-one-best-idea-for-ending-sexual-harassment/?utm_term=.5b9831665661#idea16

[4] McKinsey Global Initiative, “Making it in America: Revitalizing US Manufacturing.” November 2017.

[5] McKinsey Global Initiative, “Making it in America: Revitalizing US Manufacturing.” November 2017.

[6] http://www.clpha.org/facts_about_public_housing

[7] https://nchph.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Demographics-Fact-Sheet-2016-1.pdf

[8] https://affordablehousingonline.com/FY18-HUD-Budget-Cuts

[9] http://www.asumag.com/technology-communications/65-million-us-students-lack-adequate-internet-connections

[10] http://nepc.colorado.edu/files/pb_-_class_size.pdf

[11] https://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/17/us/school-poverty-study-southern-education-foundation.html

[12] ASCE Report Card infrastructure categories: energy, transit, ports, aviation, levees, dams, schools, roads, inland waterways, wastewater, hazardous waste, public parks & recreation, rail, bridges, solid waste, drinking water

[13] Infrastructure Grades for 2013. American Society of Civil Engineers. Available at http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/

[14] Hillary Clinton’s Infrastructure Plan: Building Tomorrow’s Economy Today. Available at https://www.hillaryclinton.com/briefing/factsheets/2015/11/30/clinton-infrastructure-plan-builds-tomorrows-economy-today/

[15] Beyond Shovel-Ready: The Extent and Impact of U.S. Infrastructure Jobs. 2014. Brookings Institution. Available at https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/beyond-shovel-ready-the-extent-and-impact-of-u-s-infrastructure-jobs/#/M45780

[16] Brookings’ definition of “infrastructure” is limited to 7 sectors (Intra-Metro Transportation, Inter-Metro Transportation, Trade and Logistics, Energy Water, Telecommunications, Public Works), which do not include schools, hospitals, and prisons. Were we to include these sectors as well, the numbers would certainly change.

[17] Caring Across Generations

[18] http://missoulian.com/news/state-and-regional/rural-communities-recruiting-foreign-workers-for-hard-to-fill-local/article_5751516c-26ae-5806-9f0e-650a9940be14.html