The Congressional Progressive Caucus has 82 members, 81 in the House and 1 in the Senate, but has taken the anti-progressive onslaught of recent years lying down. The CPC can be counted on to say some pleasant things, but in the end 1 or 2 or 8 or 14 of its members will vote a progressive position. Almost never will the CPC attempt to organize its members to all take a stand. When it did organize 90 members to sign a letter to President Bush "opposing" war funding, virtually all of them turned around and voted for the funding.
Some observers held out hope that change might be on the way when Congressman Raul Grijalva this year took over one of the caucus's two Co-Chair positions. But change hasn't arrived yet, and Grijalva has made clear that he will sit by and wait for the president to deliver it. This is disconcerting, to put it mildly, for citizens who thought the role of a caucus of congress members might involve action as well as commentary.
Here's an audio clip of an interview that Congressman Grijalva just did with Air America radio host Nicole Sandler. In it he blames the "leadership and the White House" for "prematurely" deciding to "take single-payer off the table." He does not mention the fact that the CPC obediently fell in line, that the CPC agreed to not say a word about what most of its members and most Americans support. Astroturfing activist groups and labor unions took their lead from the CPC in self-censoring single-payer talk and pretending that the "public option" was not only something they would settle for, but their ideal. Of course, this was premature. Of course, it transformed a miserable compromise -- the "public option" -- from a center-right "middle-ground" to the extreme left side of the debate. Of course, this resulted in a further compromise rightward from there. But what good does it do us to have someone in a key position of responsibility talk as if he is one of us on the outside looking in?
Well, to Grijalva's credit, with help from other CPC members like Donna Edwards, and with a lot of pushing by activists and bloggers, the CPC -- together with other caucuses -- took a stand for the miserable compromise. In July, 57 congress members signed a letter saying that they would "regard as unacceptable" any healthcare bill without a public option tied to Medicare rates. This month 55 of them voted for such a bill, whether or not they "regarded it as unacceptable." And progressives in Congress wonder why nobody pays any attention to what they say.
Grijalva tells Sandler that he was not "satisfied" with the bill but wanted it to "move on." The bill was already worse than what he and 56 others had said they could not accept, and everyone knew the Senate would only worsen it further. But Grijalva offers his pessimistic expectations of the Senate as precisely the reason he backed a bill he "opposed." Since he expects a Senate bill to include no public option at all, or one with triggers and opt-out clauses that, in his words, "effectively kill" the public option, he chose to back a House bill that at least contained some pathetic semblance of a public option, albeit one designed to reach 2 percent of Americans without even its rates publicly determined.
Grijalva says he wanted to "have a dog in the fight." Well, it's a dog for sure, but what sense can be made of this strategy? The Senate cannot legislate without the House. Either the House has a dog in the fight or there is no fight. You can claim to have changed your view and to have determined that a lousy bill is really the best bill possible, and you can claim that such a bill is better than nothing. I happen to disagree in this case, but let's allow those claims. None of that alters the fact that when you take a stand on something, and the whole world expects you to roll over, and you do so, the result is to make yourself a dog without any fight in him, a dog unworthy of even a passing kick from the people who run the country.
Adding insult to injury, the Democratic "leadership" made a major last-minute concession to those Democrats who do take stands, passing an amendment restricting women's right to abortion, and the CPC went happily along with it. Grijalva tells Sandler that his own daughter told him he had sacrificed women's rights, and he "didn't have a good answer for that." Let me give you a suggestion for next time, Congressman, VOTE NO and whip your caucus to do the same. If you only want to be a spectator, get off the damn field.
Grijalva tries, in this interview, to grab a little credit for Congressman Dennis Kucinich's short-lived amendment that would have made it more feasible for states to solve the healthcare crisis without Washington. "I have nothing but admiration for Dennis' stand on that," Grijalva says. But what if he'd had more than admiration? What if he'd done something? For the past four months, the CPC has refused to support keeping that amendment in the bill. When they held a press conference in July to announce their 57-member letter (which 55 of them would go back on, the two exceptions being Eric Massa and -- in fact -- Dennis Kucinich) the CPC refused to include Kucinich or mention of his amendment in the event.
Grijalva says that he understands why Democratic voters stay home in elections, but does he? He has the unmitigated imperialistic gall to complain that the president has failed to draw a line on progressive issues or to take a stand for majority positions. Well, what in the name of all that is decent and good, is the purpose of a Congressional Progressive Caucus if not to draw a line and take a stand for progressive legislation? Even when they disagree with the president, the Blue Dogs still fight for their destructive proposals. What is Raul waiting for?
If it's a written invitation, here's one. Congressman, you have 57 names committed to voting No on any bill as bad as the current House one, and the Senate is going to make it worse. There is reportedly a letter with at least 41 House members' names swearing they'll vote no on a bill (like the one they just voted yes on) that includes the abortion amendment. You have a pledge from a dozen members committed to opposing any bill in which the public option is reduced by triggers or opt-outs, much less both. You may only need a dozen votes to block this bill when it comes back to the House.
If you do so, then for the first time progressives will have to be listened to. The next attempt to reform healthcare will have to include progressive ideas. Legislation on any other issue will have to include progressive ideas. Commitments to vote No on war funding will have to be treated as if those making them might actually be serious. Washington and the world will change for the better if for once you take a stand on something and follow through.
David Swanson is the author of the new book "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union" by Seven Stories Press. You can order it and find out when tour will be in your town: http://davidswanson.org/book.