by Jason Frerichs
On Sunday, July 29th, 2018, I had the pleasure of meeting a very progressive Congressman from California’s 17th district, Ro Khanna. Congressman Khanna is the son of Indian immigrants and better than nearly anyone else, understands how tech can help level the economic playing field for all Americans. I asked Ro what it means to be an American.
He had the following to say. “America is a reverence for the principals of the constitution and the declaration of independence. There is a cultural aspect of being an American. It isn’t defined by common ancestry. It’s our sports, movies, and cultural traditions with a recognition that our immigrants redefine and expand those traditions. The challenge for our nation is how do we continue to embrace the core traditions and values of our culture while expanding different things within our culture?”
How have past events inspired us? World War II saw our nation go from an economic depression to having the world’s most robust economy and best educational system. The Civil Rights movement of the 1960s expanded the idea of who is an American and what it means to be an American. The fight for marriage equality and for recognition of transgender and non-binary people has challenged our notion of gender identity and expanded our definition of what it means to be a family.
Some federalists claim that our common culture, race, religion, etc….makes us American. Ro says we are a nation of ideas, not a nation of blood. President Lincoln spoke out against anti-immigrant sentiment. He said that unity is not just about patriotism. Ro Khana’s father arrived in the US in 1968 and his mother in 1975. His grandpa spent 4 years in jail in the 1940s as a part of Gandhi’s revolution. This influence shaped his belief that politics is a struggle for the dignity of human rights. At the age of 14, the future Congressman published his first letter to the editor speaking out against the Gulf War. As a student at the University of Chicago, he was a volunteer for someone you might have read about once or twice. That “someone” was Barack Obama. PVI sat down with Congressman Khanna and asked him a few questions about what his plans are to help get the US back on track.
PVI: In 2016, the most popular presidential candidate was “Did Not Vote.” How do we engage people who feel like they can’t make a difference?
Ro Khanna: Offer real economic opportunities. People feel cynical and that politics don’t matter in their lives. We need to offer solutions that people will see how they can benefit. Offer good ideas to revitalize communities so people don’t have to leave to find work. In an interview with The Atlantic, he said, “I do think there are things you can do for these areas. One is to create new job opportunities and industries in parts of the country that don’t have them. That is the hardest challenge. Part of it is expanding universities because we know that there’s a correlation between university location and job creation. Should Michigan create more satellite campuses to create more jobs?
PVI: A lot of people on the left would like to see some sort of Universal Basic Income (UBI). What would it take for you to support such a system?
Ro Khanna: Increases in supplemental income like SSI. Do away with the asset test. People bankrupt themselves just to get long-term care. Increase earned income tax credits. Support unionization and people who want to work. Congressman Khanna fears if we move to UBI right now, we’d lose support for social programs.
PVI: What is your stance on tuition-free public colleges and universities?
Ro Khanna: I support this idea. Just like in the 20s and 30s, we extended this to high school. We need to extend public education because the world is more complex. Offer apprenticeships based on local needs. Expand the Kibbie Grant program to supplement Pell Grants. The analysis shows that kids who received scholarships completed school more often. Massive investments in tech colleges based on the idea of land-grant universities. Use the model that allowed us to dominate the 20th century. Giving regular people opportunity creates greatness.
PVI: How do we engage rural voters who feel like the party doesn’t care about them?
Ro Khanna: Speak to how we can bring new industry and economic opportunities to rural America. Figure out how to bring jobs remotely. These opportunities would help stitch communities like Creston back to the Silicon Valley. I do not think we need separate messages for urban and rural. Working class families all over this nation have the same needs. They need good paying jobs, health care benefits that they can actually use, and opportunities for their children to be able to grow and prosper.
Congressman Ro Khanna indicated to PVI that he supports a Medicare for All type of healthcare system. From his website:
- I support Medicare for All and remain committed to making it a reality. I supported HR 676, which would guarantee health care for under a single-payer This would involve removing Big Pharma profits, hospital monopolies and facility fees from the equation, saving nearly $17 trillion in fees.
- I support legislation to allow for the importation of drugs from nations that we trust. I was an original co-sponsor of legislation to allow for the importation of Canadian drugs. In 2014, Americans spent $1,112 per person on prescription drugs, nearly $400 more than Canadians.
- I support legislation to allow Medicare to negotiate for more reasonable drug prices. I support legislation that will allow Americans below the age of 65 to buy into Medicare. I am a co-sponsor of HR 3748 which allows Americans to buy into the system, saving them money through reduced fees and premiums.
- I will fight to reduce pharmaceutical, insurance and hospital fee costs. Many Big Pharma companies exploit Americans by hiking the prices of critical drugs that customers need to survive. That is why I co-sponsored HR 2974 the Stop Price Gouging Act. This bill will reduce price spikes by placing an excise tax on certain prescription drugs with quickly rising prices.
- I support legislation that will allow Americans below the age of 65 to buy into Medicare. I am a co-sponsor of HR 3748 which allows Americans to buy into the system, saving them money through reduced fees and premiums.
- I support investment in wellness and preventive care.
It is clear that in 2018 and moving forward to the 2020 election cycle, we need strong progressives who aren’t afraid to think outside the box and break with party orthodoxy on what is believed to be possible. It is better to fight for the whole loaf of bread and get half than it is to start out from a weak position of compromise. For the Democrats to be successful in the next two cycles, we need people like Congressman Khanna. I stand with him and I ask you to as well.
Founder of the Iowa Democratic Party Progressive Caucus