Last night was about healthcare

The country sent Donald Trump and the Republican Party a clear brush back pitch on November 7, 2017.  Democrats enjoyed their best election night in a half decade, winning high-profile governor’s races in New Jersey and Virginia, and making massive statehouse gains in states across the country.  It was a rout — a veritable “ass-kicking,” in the words of Connecticut senator Chris Murphy.

And the common thread of the night was Americans sticking up for their healthcare.

In Maine, nearly 60 percent of voters approved a referendum to adopt Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, extending health insurance to 89,000 low-income residents.  The state’s intransigent troglodytic governor Paul LePage had ardently opposed expansion, repeatedly slandering Maine’s would-be Medicaid recipients as lazy leeching “able-bodied adults who can work and contribute to their own health insurance costs.”  The people of Maine just put LePage in his place, going around him to overwhelmingly approve healthcare for their neighbors.

Medicaid’s rousing victory in Maine is expected to inspire similar ballot initiatives in more non-expansion states in 2018.  These could include Utah, Idaho, Kansas, and other states that have held out against expanding Medicaid.

In Virginia, a tight governor’s race turned into an easy win for Democrat Ralph Northam.  This has roundly been read through the lens of Northam’s Republican opponent, supper lobbyist Ed Gillespie, who remade himself in the image of Trump be running on racial fear-mongering in an attempt to gin up the conservative base.  Voters in Virginia roundly rejected Trumpism on Tuesday.

But the results were also driven by voters’ concerns about their healthcare.  Nearly 40 percent of Virginia voters surveyed in exit polls reported that healthcare was their most important issue, far outpacing any other concern.

Democrats also made historic gains in Virginia’s House of Delegates.  As of Wednesday morning, Democrats had picked up an incredible 14 seats in the hundred-seat statehouse, pulling to a 48-47 lead with five races still being tallied or too close to call.

Winning a statehouse majority would extend Medicaid to 400,000 low-income Virginians.  Current Democratic governor Terry McAuliffe tried for years to expand the program, but the Republican-controlled House of Delegates blocked him at every turn.  A Democratic-led statehouse would allow Virginia to finally expand the program.  But even a House of Delegates with a slim Republican majority will feel incredible pressure to expand Medicaid in light of Tuesday’s sweeping election results.

These were state elections, but they were driven by national politics.  Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress relentlessly attacked the health security of millions of Americans for the vast majority of 2017.  Their party paid for it up and down the ballot on Tuesday.  Voters fought back to protect their care.

Before Tuesday, Republicans in Congress were toying with using their tax reform bill to take another stab at secretly gutting Obamacare by repealing the law’s individual mandate.  If Congress balks, Trump is poised to continue his administrative campaign to sabotage the law by readying an executive order unraveling enforcement of the mandate.  Either would strike a massive blow against ensuring affordable healthcare access under Obamacare.

Republicans go after healthcare at their own risk.  Tuesday’s electoral sweep follows on the heels of a surge of early sign-ups on Obamacare’s health exchanges despite Trump’s best attempts to thwart them.  The anti-Trump resistance flexed its muscle last night.  If Republicans train their fire on healthcare yet again, they will only fuel the greater storm gathering for November 2018.

The child allowance comes to Washington

A duo of Democratic senators has proposed a plan to provide direct government payments to American families with children. As unified conservative government sinks under the weight of unpopular plutocratic policies and mounting scandal, progressives in Congress are continuing to reach for more ambitious ideas to reenergize government’s role in American life.

Senators Michael Bennet and Sherrod Brown introduced the American Family Act of 2017, which would provide American families with a monthly child allowance to help with the cost of raising kids. Each month, families would receive a check from the government for $250 for each child under 18, plus an extra $50 for children under 5 years old.

The nuts and bolts of this plan involve a three-step overhaul of our existing Child Tax Credit, which currently provides tax relief to mostly middle-income families with children. First, Bennet-Brown would more than triple the value of this tax credit, which currently pays out a maximum of $1,000 per child. Next, they’d make this new and improved Child Tax Credit fully refundable for the first time, meaning that even low-income families with little federal tax liability could claim the entire benefit. And third, families who expect a tax refund would receive the Child Tax Credit paid out with a monthly check from the government instead.

The end result is essentially a basic income for families with children—a government-provided income floor to help defray the mammoth costs of childrearing. Most other developed countries already have one. The United States, however, has lagged behind, with outrageously high child poverty rates to show for it.

The most significant outcome of Bennet-Brown would be a historic reduction in the ranks of poor children. Researchers at Columbia University found that the senators’ child allowance proposal would cut child poverty in half, and virtually eliminate extreme $2-a-day poverty in the United States. All told, Bennet-Brown would rescue more than 5 million American children from poverty. What’s more, boosting family income is known to improve children’s academic performance and overall life chances. So a child allowance would seriously alter the life trajectory for millions of kids.

It’s worth noting that Bennet-Brown is not a truly universal child allowance. The benefit gradually phases out for single taxpayers earning over $75,000 and married taxpayers earning over $110,000. This is not uncommon—Canada’s child allowance similarly phases out for six-figure earners. This makes the benefit more complicated, but it’s functionally a way of taxing middle- and high-income families to fund benefits for lower earners, without incurring the political headache of actually adjusting tax brackets.

As a political matter, the plan lets progressives make a populist appeal to provide a new simple, tangible benefit to American families: a monthly check to help with the cost of raising children. That’s a stark contrast from the crusade conservatives in Congress have undertaken over the last year to strip benefits from low-income and middle-class Americans in order to slash taxes on the rich. Year One of unified Republican rule has been dominated by a failed attempt to gut healthcare benefits for the poor and middle class, a faltering effort to shower the wealthiest Americans with tax cuts, and the deepening scandal of the Trump campaign’s involvement with Russia. Progressives can now counter that regressive morass with bold, simple policies.

It has long been clear that conservative tax reform will be a boon for the wealthy, with a few token crumbs for everyone else. The tax reform bill introduced in the House includes a $600 increase to the Child Tax Credit that systematically excludes the low-income children who need it the most.

The Democrats’ proposal isn’t just far more generous than this—it also turns the tables on conservatives. Suddenly it’s progressives who want to entrust families with the money their entitled to every month, while conservatives would withhold it in government coffers until a single payout at tax time. Families deal with costs of raising children year-round, so why should the government squeeze them until a lump-sum tax refund? As Bennet and Brown put it, it’s better to just let “parents do the paternalism.” That’s comfortable ground for progressives to stand on.

Bennet-Brown will not become law any time soon. But it frames the agenda for a rejuvenated Democratic Party heading into the 2018 congressional elections and 2020 presidential election. Senator Brown is a proud populist progressive, but Bennet comes from the Democratic Party’s moderate wing. That they have both coalesced around a child allowance continues the trend of Democrats across the party’s political spectrum reaching for ambitious policies to alleviate the affects of economic inequality. That’s good news not just for American families, but also for the future of the Democratic Party as a vessel for innovative ideas for creating a better society.