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

  1. Mike Meyer says:

    Third Party, Folks.
    Absolutely no-one in Congress if fighting 4 U.

  2. htfd says:

    Maybe it’s time to dump the Democrats; pull your affiliation from the DNC and become an Independent. Nothing says I don’t like what you’re doing like turning your back going to another place. Is the DNC worth the double dealing crap that there chosen politicians are doing. Remember a couple years back when the change your bank was going on, well this is a change your party instead. Nothing will get the message of enough is enough across faster than a mass shift in voter affiliation.

  3. There shouldn’t be a lot of surprise here. Obama is a centrist who has spent his entire political career doing nothing without consensus among *all* concerned parties. The fact that he extended the suspension of habeas corpus and dinked around with his stance on same-sex marriage for years (after proclaiming in 1996 that he opposed it) shows that he has the courage of everyone else’s convictions.

  4. Ford Prefect says:

    I think Peter Cook summed up the current governing ethos of the Democratic Party rather well with this fake exchange:

    “Sir Arthur, do you feel you have learned from your mistakes?”

    “Yes, and I’m confident that I could repeat them exactly”

  5. karmanot says:

    Only 6? It’s over! No progressives, no liberals, no true left, left. Now, the 99% must learn to live with neo-feudalism, limited democracy in a corporate aristocractic Republic and permanent austerity.

  6. karmanot says:

    “I’m sure he considers neoliberal devastation of the 99% as very Lincolnlike.” Indeed, he spent 8 years enriching himself and set the Regonomics ball rolling further into history.

  7. Ford Prefect says:

    “Open Rebellion Caucus” sounds very nice indeed, but it’s not possible as long as the members are Democrats. Okay? Do you honestly think leadership would tolerate it? Of course not! So the only way to form such a caucus would be if the members left their party. Judging by the Fiscal Grift vote, there are only six “progressives” in the House anyway.

    Besides that, good luck finding anyone willing to bite the hand that feeds. In today’s congress, to be a “Progressive” is to be a cowardly lickspittle. They’ve all but eviscerated that word and by the time Obama is done, the word “Democrat” will be destroyed as well.

    The institutions are broken and it’s due to the abdications of so many currently holding elected office. The Democratic Party is broken. It was broken by those currently in office. Ya see where this goes?

  8. dula says:

    Bill Clinton went on the Golden Globe Awards last night to honor the movie Lincoln and made sure to remind the Liberals that like Lincoln, modern Presidents have to make compromises in order to get things done. I’m sure he considers neoliberal devastation of the 99% as very Lincolnlike.

  9. BeccaM says:

    Enabling, quislings, or hucksters conning the rubes into thinking the Dems have actual progressives in their midst? It almost doesn’t matter which it is because the result is the same: Nothing.

  10. Naja pallida says:

    As so many times before, we just come right back to the question: Are they enabling, or getting what they want? Judging from the lack of protest, either vocally or in the form of opposition votes, from the Progressive Caucus, my only conclusion is that they are getting what they want because they agree with the President. “Progressive” is just a brand name now, to fool people into voting for them. They don’t practice what they preach, and don’t seem to care about what the American people need either way. As long as they get theirs, all is right with the world.

  11. MyrddinWilt says:

    I think Obama is way further to the right than many progressives imagined and the ‘concessions’ to the GOP are rather too frequently actual policy objectives. I don’t think they were so much caves as a preferred outcome.

    At this point though, the country is just exhausted from the GOP faux crisis of the month. I have no idea why Boehner wants to be the figurehead leader of the GOP House when he has less input into the GOP policy than Jay Carney has into WH policy.

    So now we have the idiotic situation that the House is threatening to destroy the economy unless Obama thinks up a set of spending cuts that meet the House deficit cut demands and takes full responsibility for them so that the GOP can then take credit for balancing the budget while also attacking Obama for proposing the Medicare cuts they insisted on.

    I think Atrios might have nailed it when he pointed out that ‘generation lead’ didn’t just coincide with a sudden rise in violent crime, it also coincided with the rise of Limbaugh/Faux News. Where are republicans going to find supporters without a lead poisoned environment to make people stupid enough to believe their propaganda?

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