ACTION ALERT: Which Democrats to call to head off a bad sequester deal

UPDATES: I’m now told that Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35), a non-CPC member and a freshman House member, has not signed the Grayson-Takano letter after all. All information about signers to that letter come from Grayson’s office, so this information is reliable. I’ve updated the table below that contains her name. Also, I corrected the freshman status of Ami Bera and added freshman Alan Lowenthal and others to the list of CPC members in Table 2. Finally, I’ve also tweaked some phrasing for clarity.

I could have called this piece “A tale of three letters” — two House Democratic letters are circulating opposed to benefit cuts and one horrible pro-cuts letter is being circulated by pretend-Democrat Patrick Murphy. The people who signed these letters are telling us who they are and what real progressives should do about them in the coming sequester deal.

Let’s start with a little background.

Yet another “grand bargain”

As you know, Congress has two artificially created deadlines coming soon. One is the sequestration of funds (also called “the sequester”), a Congressionally-mandated across-the-board series of spending cuts that includes the military, but hits the poor, dark and urban the hardest. (For how that’s true, go here; Howie Klein at DownWithTyranny has an explanation I can’t improve on. The sequester will also damage the regulatory system; see here for more on that.)

US Capitol House Senate congress

US Capitol via Shutterstock

The sequester is scheduled to kick in on March 1 — that’s the end of this week, if you haven’t been watching. A second deadline, the Federal debt ceiling, is also coming up soon, but not on so certain a date. Both branches of government are in heavy sequester-negotiations now, with a possible roll-in of debt ceiling negotiations if the mood strikes. If it’s up to Obama, the mood will strike.

All of this, of course, is just another ruse, a phony crisis. The sequester could be cancelled by a one-sentence law. My formulation would be …

“Whereas Congress screwed up last year, and whereas nobody wants the sequester, we hereby cancel it.”

… but I’m not terribly picky. “Sorry; fixed” works for me as well.

Cancelling the sequester, however, is unlikely to happen, except as a last resort. Even though no one in Washington wants it to kick in, the sequester “event” is yet another opportunity for Obama to grand-bargain away the safety net — to cut benefits for Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid — and get the long-sought anti–New Deal ball rolling. I’ve said many times that at the level of the Bigs, there really is a centrist consensus. Every one of them — from the Neoliberal Democrats to the Movement Conservative Republicans — wants to take down the New Deal. Even Obama, as early as 2006.

So they’re going to take another run at it, those bipartisan Bigs. But as always, it won’t be easy. The goal of the Democratic leadership is to get enough Republican fingerprints on the benefit cuts so that they can say, “It’s totally bipartisan” or “Hey, they forced us into it.”

The goal of the Republicans, all of them,  is to make it a Democratic deal. They know that cutting benefits is toxic, even in a great many Republican districts (click and scroll down for the list), so they all want Obama’s dabs all over it. If they succeed in this, they’ll run against “Medicare-hating, Social Security–cutting Democrats” for the next generation (or whatever’s left of it until the climate wars kick in).

Why doesn’t Obama know that cutting benefits is toxic?  That’s anyone’s guess, but it’s clear by now he sees himself as the Nixon who went to China — as the Democrat who shouldered the anti–New Deal burden. (Or maybe he’s just financing his Presidential Library. Who knows?)

Either way, I think he’s going to die on that hill, and bring his legacy and his party down with him. But hey … I’m not in charge of what he does. I just care about what we do. So get ready for second-term Obama’s second run at Social Security and Medicare. Unless they kick the can, it happens this week. We foiled them during the lame-duck attempt. Time to foil them again.

Action in the House

Today’s piece focuses on the House only. We’ll look at the Senate when the time comes. We now have three letters by Democratic House members staking out positions on sequester negotiations and benefit cuts. All of these letters have multiple signatures.

Two letters oppose cuts, and one supports them. A letter opposing cuts from the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has 107 signatures. Another letter opposing cuts from Alan Grayson and Mark Takano has 21 signatures. And a letter by pretend-Democrat Patrick Murphy has far more Republican signatures than Democratic ones, and it supports cuts. Shame on him.

Nevertheless, you would think 107 Democrats voting No to cuts could kill a deal with cuts in it, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong — note the difference in the first two letters. Key phrases:

CPC letter: “We write to affirm our vigorous opposition to cutting Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid benefits in any final bill to replace sequestration. … we remain deeply opposed to proposals to reduce Social Security benefits through use of the chained CPI to calculate cost-of-living adjustments.”

Grayson-Takano letter: “We write to let you know that we will vote against any and every cut to Medicare, Medicaid, or Social Security benefits–including raising the retirement age or cutting the cost of living adjustments that our constituents earned and need.”

See the difference? The CPC letter “affirms opposition”; Grayson and Takano promise to vote No. Yep, the Progressive Statement Caucus is at it again. Too bad their fine statement isn’t as fine as the Grayson-Takano statement. Too bad the Progressive Statement Caucus doesn’t promise action.

To be fair, several of the signers of the CPC letter have also signed Grayson-Takano, including CPC leaders Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva. Still, the gap between the two letters is noticeable, and the huge difference in signatures — 107 for the We-Oppose letter, just 21 for the We-Vote-No letter — is telling.

Which House members have signed which letters?

Now for some lists, with phone numbers, and some thoughts on what to do. Lists first. For easy navigation, the tables below are:

Table 1. Signers of Grayson-Takano
Table 2. CPC members who signed the weaker CPC letter but not the stronger Grayson-Takano letter
Table 3. CPC members who signed neither letter
Table 4. “Democrats” who signed the Murphy letter asking for benefit cuts

■ Here are the signers of the Grayson-Takano letter. (Key: 1 in a column indicates a signer or a caucus member; 2 or a 3 indicates someone taking a leadership position. This table has Grayson and Takano at the top, and the rest listed alphabetically.)

Table 1. Signers of the Grayson-Takano letter

Signed Muphy letter Signed CPC letter Signed Grayson-Takano  Last Name First Name State & District  Party Phone Number CPC?   Frosh?
1 2 Grayson Alan FL-09 D (202) 225-9889 1 Y
1 2 Takano Mark CA-41 D (202) 225-2305 1 Y
1 1 Brown Corrine FL-05 D (202) 225-0123 1
1 1 Cartwright Matt PA-17 D (202) 225-5546 1 Y
2 1 Conyers John MI-13 D (202) 225-5126 1
1 1 DeFazio Peter OR-04 D (202) 225-6416 1
2 1 Ellison Keith MN-5 D (202) 225-4755 3
1 1 Green Gene TX-29 D (202) 225-1688 0
2 1 Grijalva Raúl AZ-3 D (202) 225-2435 3
1 1 Gutierrez Luis IL-04 D (202) 225-8203 1
1 1 Hastings Alcee FL-20 D (202) 225-1313 0
1 1 Kaptur Marcy OH-09 D (202) 225-4146 1
1 1 Lee Barbara CA-13 D (202) 225-2661 2
1 1 McGovern Jim MA-2 D (202) 225-6101 1
1 1 Nadler Jerrold NY-10 D (202) 225-5635 1
1 Napolitano Graciela CA-32 D (202) 225-5256 0
1 1 Nolan Rick MN-8 D (202) 225-6211 1 Y
1 1 Serrano José NY-15 D (202) 225-4361 1
1 1 Velázquez Nydia NY-07 D (202) 225-2361 1
1 1 Waters Maxine CA-43 D (202) 225-2201 1

Note that Grace Napolitano signed only Grayson-Takano and not the CPC letter. Works for me. Also note that four signers are freshmen; five if you count Grayson. Interesting. Also bold. Almost anti-leaderly. [Update: Gloria Negrete McLeod removed from this list. Her listing here was an error. There are several non-CPC signers of the CPC letter only; Ms. McLeod is one of them.]

And for the record, I’m really impressed with freshman Mark Takano for this.

■ Now a list of CPC members who signed the CPC letter but didn’t sign Grayson-Takano. This is our most interesting list, since these House members seem to be preserving the option to oppose cuts at talk time, but vote the way Neolib-enablers Pelosi and Hoyer want them to.

Table 2. CPC members who signed the CPC letter but not the Grayson-Takano letter

Signed Muphy letter Signed CPC letter Signed Grayson-Takano  Last Name First Name State & District  Party Phone Number CPC?   Frosh?
2 Edwards Donna MD-4 D (202) 225-8699 1
2 Schakowsky Jan IL-09 D (202) 225-2111 2
1 Bass Karen CA-37 D (202) 225-7084 1
1 Bonamici Suzanne OR-01 D (202) 225-0855 1
1 Christensen Donna VI D-Del (202) 225-1790 1
1 Chu Judy CA-27 D (202) 225-5464 1
1 Cicilline David RI-1 D (202) 225-4911 2
1 Clarke Yvette NY-09 D (202) 225-6231 1
1 Clay William (Lacy) MO-1 D (202) 225-2406 1
1 Cleaver Emanuel MO-5 D (202) 225-4535 1
1 Cohen Steve TN-9 D (202) 225-3265 1
1 Cummings Elijah MD-7 D (202) 225-4741 1
1 Davis Danny IL-07 D (202) 225-5006 1
1 DeLauro Rosa CT-3 D (202) 225-3661 1
1 Farr Sam CA-20 D (202) 225-2861 1
1 Fattah Chaka PA-02 D (202) 225-4001 1
1 Frankel Lois FL-22 D (202) 225-9890 1 Y
1 Fudge Marcia OH-11 D (202) 225-7032 1
1 Hahn Janice CA-44 D (202) 225-8220 1
1 Holmes Norton Eleanor DC D-Del (202) 225-8050 1
1 Holt Rush NJ-12 D (202) 225-5801 1
1 Honda Michael CA-17 D (202) 225-2631 2
1 Huffman Jared CA-02 D (202) 225-5161 1 Y
1 Jackson Lee Sheila TX-18 D (202) 225-3816 2
1 Jeffries Hakeem NY-08 D (202) 225-5936 1 Y
1 Johnson Eddie Bernice TX-30 D (202) 225-8885 1
1 Lewis John GA-05 D (202) 225-3801 1
1 Loebsack Dave IA-2 D (202) 225-6576 1
1 Lowenthal Alan CA-47 D (202) 225-7924 1 Y
1 Maloney Carolyn NY-12 D (202) 225-7944 1
1 Markey Edward MA-5 D (202) 225-2836 1
1 McDermott Jim WA-07 D (202) 225-3106 1
1 Moore Gwen WI-4 D (202) 225-4572 1
1 Pastor Ed AZ-7 D (202) 225-4065 1
1 Pingree Chellie ME-1 D (202) 225-6116 1
1 Pocan Mark WI-2 D (202) 225-2906 1 Y
1 Rangel Charles NY-13 D (202) 225-4365 1
1 Roybal-Allard Lucille CA-40 D (202) 225-1766 1
1 Sánchez Linda CA-38 D (202) 225-6676 1
1 Slaughter Louise NY-25 D (202) 225-3615 1
1 Thompson Bennie MS-2 D (202) 225-5876 1
1 Tierney John MA-6 D (202) 225-8020 1
1 Watt Melvin NC-12 D (202) 225-1510 1
1 Welch Peter VT D (202) 225-4115 1

Donna Christensen and Eleanor Holmes Norton are non-voting delegates to the House. Note that Donna Edwards and Jan Shakowsky took a leadership position in getting the CPC letter signed (column 2), yet haven’t signed Grayson-Takano. I hear this letter is now being called the “Shakowsky letter”  because both Grijalva and Ellison have signed Grayson-Takano.

Every name on this list is worth a phone call, especially if he or she is your own, and especially if that name is Donna Edwards or Jan Schakowsky (phone numbers above, should you be wondering).

■ Now a list of CPC members who signed neither letter. Are these people progressives at all? One could reasonably ask.

Table 3. CPC members who signed neither letter

Signed Muphy letter Signed CPC letter Signed Grayson-Takano  Last Name First Name State & District  Party Phone Number CPC?   Frosh?
Becerra Xavier CA-34 D (202) 225-6235 2
Blumenauer Earl OR-03 D (202) 225-4811 1
Capuano Michael MA-7 D (202) 225-5111 1
Carson André IN-7 D (202) 225-4011 1
Kennedy III Joe MA-4 D (202) 225-5931 1 Y
1 Kuster Ann NH-2 D (202) 225-5206 1 Y
Luján Ben Ray NM-3 D (202) 225-6190 1
Miller George CA-11 D (202) 225-2095 1
Moran James VA-08 D (202) 225-4376 1
Pallone Frank NJ-06 D (202) 225-4671 1
Polis Jared CO-2 D (202) 225-2161 1

A couple of things jump out here. If I’m not mistaken, Xavier Becerra has a leadership position in the CPC. Earl Blumenauer has a fairly leftie reputation; at least he sometimes votes as such. Ann Kuster signed the horrible Murphy letter. And finally, Joe Kennedy III? Really? Really.

All of these folks are worth a call.

■ And if you’re curious which Democrats signed pretend-Democrat Patrick Murphy’s Yes-to-Cuts letter, here’s that list of shame.

Table 4. “Democrats” who signed Murphy’s please-make-cuts letter

Signed Muphy letter Signed CPC letter Signed Grayson-Takano  Last Name First Name State & District  Party Phone Number CPC?   Frosh?
1 1 Bera Ami CA-07 D (202) 225-5716 0 Y
1 1 Cardenas Tony CA-29 D (202) 225-6131 0 Y
1 Gallego Pete TX-23 D (202) 225-4511 0 Y
1 Garcia Joe FL-26 D (202) 225-2778 0 Y
1 1 Kirkpatrick Ann AZ-1 D (202) 225-3361 0 Y
1 Kuster Ann NH-2 D (202) 225-5206 1 Y
1 1 Meng Grace NY-06 D (202) 225-2601 0 Y
2 Murphy Patrick FL-18 D (202) 225-3026 0 Y
1 Peters Scott CA-52 D (202) 225-0508 0 Y
1 1 Sinema Kyrsten AZ-9 D (202) 225-9888 0 Y
1 Swalwell Eric CA-15 D (202) 225-5065 0 Y

Two names jump out. Ann Kuster again — did you notice that she’s also a CPC member? I did. Krysten Sinema entered the House with some fairly loud progressive buzz. And finally, all are freshmen, new to the House. Some are known bad, of course, but this isn’t promising. Kuster and Sinema are definitely worth a call.

What to do

The people in Table 1 need to be thanked — and also encouraged to follow through. The people in Table 2 need to be asked if they will back up their talk with their votes. Paraphrasing Hamlet, “Words without votes never to heaven go.”

The people in Table 3 need a talking to — are they progressives? If so, why not sign both letters? They’re on the watch list, and they should probably know it.

And the people in Table 4, especially Kuster and Sinema — well, one wonders if they’re willing to dismantle their party’s signature achievements: Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. The letter they signed does ask for cuts. Ann? Kyrsten? Time for some serious contemplation, I would think.

Everything you need to make these calls is in  this post.

In all cases, the ask is the same — Sign the Grayson-Takano letter promising to Vote No on Any Cuts. Then follow through at vote-time. 

Can you help out? Unless Our Betters kick the can even further down the road, the action is this week. Benefit cuts can die in the House or die in the Senate. But I guarantee that if a benefit-cuts bill reaches Obama’s desk, he will eagerly sign it. He’s just that kind of guy, and besides, presidential libraries don’t build themselves.

I’ll be following up through the week. If you like, please leave your results in the comments to this post. Your feedback after making calls is incredibly valuable. Thanks!


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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