Rosa DeLauro and the curse of the kitchen table

The world would be a better place with Rosa DeLauro’s policies in effect.

She’s known as a liberal, but the longtime U.S. Representative from New Haven isn’t pushing anything radical. His ideas would mostly put the United States on a par with other wealthy countries around the world — paid family leave, higher minimum wage, better health care.

It is clear that she believes in such policies for their own good, but also in their political power. In other words, improve people’s lives and the responsible party will reap electoral gains. “You have to put yourself in their shoes,” she said in a recent interview.

But it is not clear that these political advantages are real.

DeLauro, who recently toured the state touting Connecticut’s new paid vacation law with promises to push for such a program nationwide, is a big proponent of so-called kitchen table issues. These are defined as the type of problems that families face in coping with a changing world, when everything is more expensive and bureaucracy is harder to eliminate. People just need a break, and politicians can help provide one.

Paid family leave is an excellent example. Business groups fought against this, and everyone pays for it through state taxes, but the benefits for those who benefited from the new policy are real. Almost everyone has faced a situation where they have to take care of a sick loved one, or maybe they want to spend time with a newborn, but are worried about the impact on their work. .

In the United States, workers have a guaranteed leave without fear of losing their job, but it is not paid. And few people can afford to spend time without pay.

So the officials step in and try to solve the problem. The result, in Connecticut, is a successful program that meets people’s real needs and should be used as a model for other states. This counts as a victory for the politicians who supported him.

Do voters then reward these politicians for improving their lives? It’s much fuzzier.

For example, take DeLauro’s signature policy, the Expanded Child Tax Credit. It was part of the pandemic relief package signed at the start of the Biden presidency, and it quickly put money in people’s pockets. And they spent it on the things they needed – survey results showed people used it for school expenses, food and other basic household expenses. Kitchen table stuff, in other words.

But even if voters reacted positively, it did not move them politically. The same surveys showed that even people who needed the extra money didn’t necessarily credit Democrats and were unlikely to change their votes because of it. Evidence that individual policies can influence voters is scarce at best – people just don’t pay enough attention to them, even in an era when everything is politicized. And it doesn’t help that the child tax credit extension was doomed by Senate centrists like Joe Manchin, who claimed without evidence that recipients would use it to buy drugs.

Despite questionable results, Democrats, typified by DeLauro and his close ally Nancy Pelosi, have resolutely pursued this approach, even when faced with daily outrage from the Trump-led Republican Party.

Take the case of the impeachment of the former president, which developed from the day he took office. As the scandals mounted, even someone as cautious as Jim Himes in the Fourth District showed up for impeachment in 2019. (That was before news of Trump’s appeal to the President of Ukraine and that the entire Connecticut delegation is embarked).

On the day Himes announced her support for the impeachment, DeLauro released a statement saying she was not with him. “We must not lose sight of the kitchen table issues that matter to working families,” she said.

None of this personally hurts DeLauro. She will likely be reelected in the Third District as long as she decides to keep running.

But for Democrats nationwide, it’s a different story. They continually talk about kitchen table issues even as Republicans trample the nation. The crisis of American democracy is clear and growing.

Democrats have a habit of blaming their problems on messaging. If only more people knew their big policies, they would be showered with electoral benefits. It’s possible. But they’ve been down this path for a long time, with National Republicans pushing ever more extreme positions and Democrats retreating to the same themes as always. It’s time to try something new.

It is not a question of insufficient partisanship. DeLauro and Pelosi are fighting hard for what their party believes in, unlike the bipartisan anthems we still hear, in 2022, from the White House. But there is reason to question the priorities of the party. “Our democracy is in danger” Pelosi said a few days ago. “But what we’re campaigning on is the kitchen table issues affecting American working families.”

There’s nothing wrong with the kitchen table. We need people like Rosa DeLauro fighting for things like food safety and cheaper prescription drugs. This must be at the heart of the Democrats’ mission.

But when that’s all the party has to offer, it leads to immense frustration. You can’t have one party ticking off their Supreme Court wish list while the other is saying, “We’re working to lower your insurance premiums.”

Not everything can be chopped up at the kitchen table.

Hugh Bailey is editorial page editor for the Connecticut Post and the New Haven Register. He can be reached at hbailey@hearstmediact.com.

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