Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, said his party has
failed to stem the appeal of the Tea Party, which emerged in 2009 as
government spending skyrocketed and helped Republicans take control
of the House of Representatives in 2010.
"The fundamental contradiction here is not only that government
didn't cause many of the problems, but that the average citizen and
even the average Tea Party member likes and wants to retain most of
what government does," the New York Democrat said in a speech at the
Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank in Washington.
Schumer outlined his strategy as Democrats face a tough environment
heading into November's congressional elections.
The botched launch of President Barack Obama's sweeping healthcare
law could hurt Democrats' prospects for retaining control of the
Senate and lengthen their already long odds of wresting the House
away from the majority Republicans.
The entire 435-member House is up for grabs in the November
election, as are 36 of the 100 Senate seats.
Schumer said that during Obama's first term Democrats should have
tried harder to address the "growing problem of income inequality,"
which he said was more important to the average American than the
healthcare reforms Democrats pursued.
"It was a worthy goal but it wasn't at the top of most Americans'
to-do lists," Schumer said of healthcare reform. The effort seemed
"beside the point" to the 90 percent of Americans who already had
employer-sponsored healthcare plans or government healthcare funding
like Medicare and Medicaid, he said.
Schumer singled out David and Charles Koch, billionaire brothers who
have given substantial financial support to Tea Party groups, and
said these "plutocrats" have a different agenda than the average Tea
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"These people are wealthy, hard-right, narrow people who don't want
to pay taxes and don't want government interfering with their
companies no matter what damage they may do to their workers, to the
environment or to anybody else," Schumer said.
"The average Tea Party member, like the average American, likes
government-run Medicare, likes government-built highways and water
and sewer lines, likes government support for education, both higher
and lower," the senator said.
Schumer outlined steps Democrats could take to beat back the Tea
Party, including going on the offensive to argue that government can
be part of the solution to problems plaguing middle-class Americans,
like declining incomes.
"We must state loudly and repeatedly that we believe government is
often a necessary force for good," he said.
Schumer also advocated changing electoral laws to have open
primaries, in which voters choose among candidates for both parties,
with the top two vote-getters going to a runoff. He said open
primaries, which are already held in some states, would lessen the
likelihood that extreme candidates could win an election.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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