Progressive group tells Biden he can achieve economic goals even without control of Senate

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A co-founder of the progressive group Justice Democrats and a former top aide to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York have a striking message for President-elect Joe Biden: Don’t worry about the Georgia Senate races.

They think it would be great for Democrats to win them and control the Senate, of course. But even if they don’t, they said in a memo obtained first by POLITICO, Biden can still accomplish almost all of his “Build Back Better” plan to overhaul the economy.

New Consensus, a left-wing think tank led by Ocasio-Cortez’s former chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti, Justice Democrats’ co-founder Zack Exley, and organizer Demond Drummer, argues that Biden could team up with the Federal Reserve and Treasury Department to provide trillions of dollars of low-interest loans to build the “industries of tomorrow” and help small businesses suffering because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The group’s memo, which it said it sent to the Biden transition team on Tuesday, acknowledges that bipartisan legislation might be appealing. But it insists it isn’t strictly necessary.

“The plan we’ve just outlined, again, can be pursued with or without formal legislation,” the document reads. “Should that not happen, as you know, the nation does not have the luxury of waiting for such perks before tackling its most urgent and indeed ‘existentially’ compelling needs. What can legally be done must quickly be done.”

Democrats netted one Senate seat in the Nov. 3 election, giving them 48. If they win both Georgia contests in a Jan. 5 runoff, the chamber will be split 50-50 with Republicans, leaving future Vice President Kamala Harris to cast tie-breaking votes for the Democrats.

The New Consensus memo is one of several recent attempts by the progressive left to influence the incoming Biden administration. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is interested in serving as Biden’s Treasury secretary, while Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) is making a play to become his Labor chief. The Sunrise Movement, a group of young climate change activists, also this week slammed Biden’s decision to tap Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) to serve as his senior adviser as a “betrayal.”

Biden’s Build Back Better plan looks to create millions of jobs by revitalizing the manufacturing industry, building green infrastructure, revamping the country’s caregiving system, and fostering racial equity.

New Consensus’ memo calls on the president-elect to take several major steps to make that a reality: First, create a “National Development Council,” which includes the Federal Reserve chair, Treasury secretary and Cabinet members, to craft an economic development strategy and identify projects that advance it.

Second, form a “National Development Bank” — or use the existing Federal Financing Bank — to make financing plans for those proposals. And then, they said, regional Federal Reserve banks should be empowered to administer the local projects in their backyards, instead of having the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or Boston managing everything.

“In the ’08 bailout, the PTSD I would say is that the Fed gave all this near-zero-interest money out — the result of that was we saved the banking system, but we didn’t actually build anything new,” Chakrabarti in an interview. “As opposed to in the past, when we spent all this money, we built the interstate highway system. We built the Apollo space program. So there’s this chance this time to do it right.”

The think tank also said Biden should take a page from President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal and pursue economic development projects in every congressional district in the nation.

“One of the things that made Roosevelt so successful, including in midterm elections, was precisely the fact that he went big with the New Deal and he went to lots of districts that are traditionally ignored by Washington or New York,” said Robert Hockett, a New Consensus fellow and former counsel at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. “That’s part of what made it so popular, but it also meant that it was more just and more democratic.”

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