Is the House Progressive Caucus “enabling Obama’s rightward moves?”

This is post four-of-five (a Borg designation) in a series on the House Progressive Caucus.  Earlier posts include:

■ Progressive Statement Caucus issues statement (includes a discussion of the 2009 ACA vote, which Solomon also discusses; I’ll be coming back to that later)

House progressives who voted NO on the fiscal cliff deal (with phone numbers and comment)

House progressives who voted YES on the fiscal cliff deal (with phone numbers and comment)

I hope to conclude the series, at least temporarily, with a post on How to Blackmail the CPC — A Winner’s Guide. (That 2009 ACA vote will get another mention; it’s the template.)

Like many progressives in the House Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), Norman Solomon is also a real progressive. Most recently he was a Democratic candidate for California’s 2nd district to replace the retiring Lynn Woolsey. He lost, but ran ahead of all other Democratic candidates save the winner, Jared Huffman, who is now himself a member of the CPC.

Where Solomon seems to differ from others in the CPC is his adherence to the four rules for Effective Progressive Coalitions — especially rule 3:

3. The Coalition serves the Coalition, not the Democratic Party or any other group or goals.

How refreshing. Had Solomon won, he’d be a prime candidate for the Open Rebellion Caucus the Democrats badly need in order to combat NeoLiberal leaders like Barack Obama, Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi (yes, that Nancy Pelosi and that one and that one).

Does the CPC enable rightward moves of the Democratic NeoLiberal leadership?

I say all of the above to introduce Solomon’s comments about the CPC, which were published here among other places (my emphasis and some reparagraphing):

The Progressive Caucus: Enabling Obama’s Rightward Moves?

The failure of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to stand up to President Obama on many vital matters of principle is one of the most important – and least mentioned – political dynamics of this era. As the largest caucus of Democrats on Capitol Hill, the Progressive Caucus has heavyweight size but flyweight punch.

During the last four years, its decisive footwork has been so submissive to the White House that you can almost hear the laughter from the West Wing when the Progressive Caucus vows to stand firm. A sad pattern of folding in the final round has continued. When historic votes come to the House floor, party functionaries are able to whip the Progressive Caucus into compliance. The endgame ends with the vast majority of the caucus members doing what Obama wants.

And so it goes. The proximate cause of his piece was the vote on the fiscal deal — a bad deal in my book, since Obama refused to play his aces and used Biden to undo all of Reid’s good work (that’s my frame; the “official frame” is that Obama’s just a big ole scaredy cat).

In a January 1 lame duck Congress that hadn’t yet turn over its seats to the new members, the Congressional Progressive Caucus — your Fighting Progressives in the House — had 75 seats by Solomon’s count. The Obama–Boehner–McConnell bill passed by 44 votes. You do the math … let’s see, 75 is bigger than 44, carry the zero … hey, they could have killed it. Solomon:

Widely denounced by progressive analysts, the bill passed on the House floor by a margin of 44 votes – with the Progressive Caucus providing the margin. Out of 75 caucus members, only seven voted against it.

Alphonse & Gaston: "After you, my dear."Your Fighting Progressives? Or your Statement-Making Progressives? I’ve been calling them the Congressional Statement Caucus, since that’s what they’re especially good at.

But they’re also part of the “Congressional Follow-the-Leader Caucus” since the NeoLiberals who run the Democratic Party, from Obama to Pelosi (yep, she’s now one) to everyone else with any position of power leads the Fighting Progressives by the nose — when it counts — when it’s time to actually vote. Was the Fiscal Deal vote a totally bad vote? No. Was it a totally follow-the-leader vote? Yes. Pelosi announced she would deliver whatever Dem votes were needed for whatever deal Obama struck with Boehner.

Solomon notes as I did the statement made by the bold Statement Caucus on the health care bill:

We should also come to terms with the reality that the Progressive Caucus is routinely rolled by the president. … [I]n September 2009 … Progressive Caucus co-chairs sent a public letter to Obama on behalf of the caucus — pledging to vote against any healthcare bill “without a robust public option.” Six months later, on the House floor, every member of the Progressive Caucus wilted under pressure and voted for a healthcare bill with no public option at all.

I’ve been calling that “taking Dennis Kucinich’s plane ride.” You might call it something less polite. Think: If they didn’t want to stand firm, why make the statement? If they did want to stand firm, well, stand firm! Pick one.

To answer the question in the headline, yes — the CPC does seem to be an enabler of Dem NeoLiberal policies. Now, what to do?

What do we do about the CPC?

One solution is this — as regular readers know, I’ve been advocating the creation of an Open Rebellion Caucus — a group of congressfolk who would openly and explicitly opposed rule by NeoLiberal party leaders. Explicitly. And openly.

Of course, the “open rebellion” caucus can name itself anything it likes. They can call themselves the “Congressional Youth Choir” or the “Puppies and Kitties Caucus” if “Open Rebellion” is too scary a name. (But then again, if a name with “rebellion” in it is too scary, what will they do when they have to actually vote? Go back to being the “Collapsing Progressives Caucus”?)

But the problem is complex. Here’s Solomon’s recommendation, as far as it goes:

We need Progressive Caucus members who are progressives first and loyal Democrats second, not the other way around. … What we have witnessed so far is … a chronic confluence of conformity and undue party loyalty, with brave talk from caucus members habitually followed by contrary votes on the floor of the House of Representatives. From the grassroots, progressives must mobilize to pressure every member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus to let them know we will hold them accountable.

A strong statement, but not a terribly strong recommendation — or a useful one. How do we pressure them?

To find the answer, I think we need to answer a related question — How do their NeoLiberal leaders pressure them? What are the CPC vulnerabilities, and how can we use that information to immunize them from the Obama’s of their world?

That answer (yes, there is one) in the next post in this series. As always, stay tuned.


To follow or send links: @Gaius_Publius

Gaius Publius is a professional writer living on the West Coast of the United States.

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