Across the country last night, voters cast their ballots largely in favor of progressive policies and progressive candidates, topping it off with a decisive victory for President Obama. With a slim majority in the Senate and the House still held by Republicans, Democrats have little time to waste before they start working to get the votes needed to implement their progressive agenda. Here are the top five progressive policies Obama and Congress should get to work on right now:
1. Immigration reform.
Obama’s directive telling the Department of Homeland Security to stop deporting young, undocumented students and service members was a good start, but Obama has promised full immigration reform. With 75 percent of the Latino vote, immigration advocates have pinned their hopes on Obama’s re-election. Plus, there are plenty of Republicans who have embraced a pro-immigrant, pro-reform stance who might prove helpful allies in the fight to make our immigration system more fair and more open.
2. Climate change legislation.
Early on in Obama’s first term, he tried to push the Waxman-Markey “cap and trade” bill. But it stalled in the Senate, was left there forgotten, and climate change was hardly mentioned again. In his victory speech last night, though, Obama said, “We want our children to live in an America… that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” That claim could be backed up by any number of pieces of legislation to reduce carbon emissions and prepare for an already-warming planet.
3. LGBT equality.
Obama has announced his personal support for marriage equality, but it’s time for him to turn his personal respect for the LGBT community into a set of actions. Congress can begin by passing the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, which would stop employers from firing a person simply because he or she is LGBT — a right that most people think is already afforded to LGBT Americans. He can also focus on fully repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.
4. Marijuana reform.
Last night, referendums to make marijuana legal for recreational use passed in Colorado and Washington. In Massachusetts and Montana, voters approved other initiatives to destigmatize marijuana use. The drug has been decriminalized in more than half of the United States. It makes sense for the country: Drug incarceration is responsible for about a quarter of the people in prison in the US, and those are largely low-income African American men. GQ reported earlier this election cycle that Obama would “pivot” to the drug war in his second term — and with Colorado and Washington now clashing with federal law, that pivot might need to happen soon.
5. Helping homeowners.
The new term will allow Obama to appoint a new head for the Federal Housing Finance Agency — an important move, since the current acting director blocked aid for struggling homeowners. A new FHFA director could help homeowners by forgiving mortgage debt, which would help the still-struggling housing market, and a lot of individuals and families, and would provide a boost to the economy as a whole.