What are the US Democrats' big ideas?

Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders appear together at a news conference. Image copyright Getty Images

One of the ongoing criticisms of Democrats since Barack Obama moved out of the White House is that the party has been defined by what it opposes, instead of what it wants to do.

They're not Donald Trump. They're against travel bans, border walls, trade wars, financial and environmental deregulation, corporate tax cuts and repeal of the Obamacare health insurance system.

But what are they for? What are their ideas?

Those are the kind of questions the speakers at the Center for American Progress' "Ideas Conference" held in a Washington hotel were tasked with answering.

A long list of Democratic politicians - some up for re-election in the mid-term contests this year; others possibly angling for the Democratic 2020 presidential nomination - took the stage in panels and set-piece speeches. Many offered variations on the a-word - "alternatives".

"We're not going to win if we spend all our time bemoaning that he's there," Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar said of Mr Trump's White House occupancy. "He's there. And we have to offer an alternative.

"People ask how come you're not offering alternatives," Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown said at the conference. "And I say we are."

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But are they? After a day of statements and speeches, there were a lot of broad-brush strokes. A lot of paeans to the forgotten working class, celebrations of women activists and candidates, a lot of talk about action and exactly how bad things are right now.

Here's a look at some of the proposals and priorities offered by Democratic politicians in Washington last week.

Minimum wage and 'freeloader fees'

Sherrod Brown, who is both up for re-election this year and considered a possible presidential contender, spent most of his time talking about how to appeal to a traditional Democratic demographic that, at least in the Midwest, helped deliver the White House to Mr Trump in 2016 - the working class.

"I think workers in my state are looking for somebody in elected office to talk about the dignity of work, to talk about whose side they are on," he said.

He pushed what he calls a "corporate freeloader fee" - imposing a penalty on companies with more than $100,000 in payroll taxes that do not pay their workers high enough wages to keep them off public assistance programmes.

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Image caption Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown has said corporations that pay low wages should be penalised

Mr Brown and other Democrats also mentioned raising the federal minimum wage from its current $7.15 an hour level, which was set in 2009. Some states have passed much higher minimum-wage levels.

Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey said the federal government should guarantee Americans a job if they want one, which he said was not a "radical idea".

"Why not invest on the front-end with secure jobs so that you're not seeing negative impacts that come with low-employment or unemployment like foreclosures and evictions?" he asked.

It's an idea that has also gained support from Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, although neither discussed specifics during their appearances.

Expanding public schooling

Education was also a recurring theme for conference speakers. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio explained how he implemented a tax on wealthy residents to pay for universal pre-kindergarten schooling. He said it wasn't a "conventional wisdom" position at the time, but that progressives should propose and advocate ambitious policies.

"When we are bold and clear and sharp, people get it," Mr de Blasio said. "People feel it."

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Image caption New York Mayor Bill de Blasio on a tour of pre-kindergarten classes in 2014

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, elected last November, said he was pushing for his state to provide both universal pre-kindergarten and free tuition for the first two years of college.

"We need to set a new standard for education," he said. "Who said that public education should be a right for everybody between [the ages of] five and 18, but not for those either before five or after 18?"

Ethics, reform and oversight

Democrats' views of Mr Trump's rise to the White House and his performance there have seeped into some of their policy proposals as well, and a few of them were mentioned on the stage last week.

Congressman Ted Lieu of California, who is one of the more outspoken Trump critics on television and Twitter, plugged his series of Stop Waste and Misuse by the President (SWAMP) Acts. One would require the president to reimburse the government for expenses incurred when he visits his private business properties.

Another would prohibit administration officials from taking non-commercial air travel - a response to a series of controversies surrounding the use of private and government jets by Trump cabinet secretaries.

Ms Klobuchar plugged her Honest Ads Act, which would require online advertisements - such as those on Facebook and Google - to comply with the same disclosure obligations as those on television, print and radio.

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, one of the leading voices of the progressive movement, aimed her criticism at the American political system of allowing politicians to draw congressional district maps that favour their own re-elections.

"Democrats believe in a fair fight, and making sure that districts aren't drawn to cut out one party or the other is a critical first step," she said.

'Dismantling the oligarchy'

Mr Sanders, who mounted a surprisingly strong challenge against Hillary Clinton for the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination, was slated to give a speech on criminal justice reform.

Instead, he launched into a sweeping condemnation of US income inequality that sounded a lot like a campaign stump speech.

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Image caption Amy Klobuchar wants Congress to pass legislation on internet political ads

After rattling off a list of policy ideas he said he was sure other politicians had spoken about, he insisted nothing could be done unless the US addresses structural economic imbalances.

"The oligarchy in this country, whose greed is insatiable, is destroying… our vision for America and is moving us to a government of the few, by the few and for the few," he said.

He called for increased taxes on the wealthy and, in particular, a "substantial" increase of the estate tax, "not only to bring in needed revenue but to help dismantle the oligarchy".

Guns, the environment and healthcare

New firearm regulations were a hot topic of discussion among Democrats following the Parkland high school shooting three months ago - and they may be again after the latest incident in Santa Fe, Texas.

At the Ideas Conference, however, the gun debate was mostly limited to one afternoon panel that included Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Parkland student Ryan Deitsch.

The conversation was light on concrete proposals, instead focusing on what Mr Murphy identified as a changing political attitude towards gun control.

"Republicans know that everything is different right now, and they know that they are fundamentally mispositioned on this issue, and they know that it may actually cost them for the first time ever in the midterm election of 2018," he said.

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Media captionSandy Hook Senator: 'This happens nowhere else'

After the Obamacare repeal battles of 2017, the topic of healthcare reform has also been less of a priority for Democrats. Massachusetts Congressman Joe Kennedy, in a late afternoon speech, essentially implored his party to keep talking about the issue in the coming months.

"Our healthcare system is a reflection of who we are," he said. "We are judged not by how we treat each other in times in ease, but how we care for a neighbour in their time of deepest need - when we are broke, when we are sick, when we are helpless, desperate or more vulnerable than we can ever imagine."

The environment and climate change was another topic that saw limited widespread discussion outside of a panel specifically dedicated to it.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee touted a state ballot measure in November that would impose the first-ever direct carbon fee in the US, setting up a billion-dollar fund to subsidise clean energy jobs and handle pollution remediation, particularly in poorer communities.

"Climate change will no longer be on the back burner," Mr Inslee said. "Every Democrat running needs to make it a central message. The American people are with us."

Last week in Washington, Democrats offered plenty of suggested messages to run on. Over the coming months, as the party chooses its nominees for the forthcoming mid-term elections, Democratic voters will have the opportunity to decide which ones - if any - should be central.