Democratic New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio defended his involvement in national issues with the progressive agenda to combat income equality amid criticism of spending too much time outside of the city.
De Blasio also said he agrees “entirely” with Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) on trade.
“I think it’s obvious the issues that we’re talking about here have a huge impact on the people of New York City and when you think about what’s happening in our city – 46 percent of the people of our city at or near the poverty level – those are according to statistics developed in the Bloomberg administration. The ways we address that involve national policy,” de Blasio said on Capitol Hill this month.
“New York City and cities all over the country need the federal government to address income inequality. We can’t make the progress we need without it. I think the fact is this is something that has to happen for our people. None of us ought to get lost in perceptions and we ought to deal in facts. Everyone understands the federal government has a huge impact on the future of our roads, mass transit, education, affordable housing, things we are crying out for solutions in New York City. It’s obvious that a lot of what we need is right here,” he added.
The agenda includes raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour as well as universal pre-kindergarten.
Many members of Congress signed the agenda and praised de Blasio for uniting progressives.
Rev. Al Sharpton said the shared goals of progressives are more important than each individual leader’s specific opinions.
“We don’t agree on everything but we agree that we have to deal with income inequality and wages and how we get there,” he said. “We can’t debate that America has to be fair for everybody. We can’t debate that the billionaires are playing games with us and treating us like hamsters on a treadmill rather than people that are focused on the goal line. We will change the debate starting today.”
Former Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean said, “I’m not against rich people, but I am for America and America can’t work if 80 percent of the people do not participate in the benefits of our extraordinary economic machine that we have.”
Dean also said he supported changes to the Affordable Care Act, which is not part of the formal agenda.
“We appreciate the president’s leadership on healthcare but there are some things we need to do to fix it to make sure that everybody has healthcare at a reasonable price,” he said.
The agenda calls for allowing students to refinance student loan debt.
“When students borrow for college they should be able to borrow at the same interest rate the big banks get when they borrow from the federal government,” Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) said.
“We want to make sure that college is debt-free for students – college is debt-free for the next generation, that is what this agenda is all about,” Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.) said.
Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) said the coalition behind de Blasio’s progressive agenda could be “the beginning of a revolution.”
Another part of the agenda calls for lawmakers to “oppose trade deals that hand more power to corporations at the expense of American jobs, workers’ rights, and the environment.”
The White House and Congress are currently debating the passage of a trade deal.
“When you have trade pacts as we have had for the last 20 years that make workers compete with people making 30 cents a day and the company says if you demand a decent wage we will move to Vietnam, that’s income inequality and it’s inequality of opportunity and that’s what produces all the benefits of recovery of the recession going to the top 1 percent. We will not stand for it,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Sen. Warren has expressed opposition to granting President Obama more authority in negotiating trade pacts. Obama recently said her position is “absolutely wrong.”
De Blasio said he supports Warren’s position on the trade deal pending in Congress.
“I think the bottom line on trade is I couldn’t agree more with Elizabeth Warren and progressives who are saying they’re deeply concerned about this trade deal. We all live in the shadow of NAFTA. It’s as simple as that. We all saw a deal previously that was supposed to strengthen the economic hand of American workers and undermined American workers profoundly,” he said. “There’s honest concern that this trade deal could do the same thing.”