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How's the Progressive Caucus Progressing?

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Seventy-one members of Congress, all Democrats, most House Members, two Senators, belong to the Congressional Progressive Caucus.  For a couple of years now, the CPC has had a staff person.  More recently it created a website http://cpc.lee.house.gov


Since most of the positions generally labeled progressive are backed by either a majority or a large minority of Americans, it certainly seems useful to have at least a small minority in Congress pushing for them.  If anything good is ever to come out of Congress, this seems a likely source for it.


The CPC operates from within the Democratic Party, and that party is now in the majority.  So, the question arises: what influence does the CPC have with the rest of its party or with Republicans, and what goals will it attempt to achieve?

 During the leadup to the recent vote on the "supplemental" war spending bill, the CPC publicly took a position in support of using the power of the purse to end the war in 6 months: http://tinyurl.com/yqlf5x  This statement, combined with the 71-person membership, forced an antiwar position into the corporate media.  However, the position was arrived at by the majority vote of only those CPC members who attended a particular meeting. The two Co-Chairs of the CPC, Lynn Woolsey and Barbara Lee, are among the most progressive of congress members.  Lee proposed in the House Rules Committee an amendment that would have restricted the war spending bill to funding a withdrawal by the end of 2007, but her party's leadership refused to allow a floor vote on that amendment.   In keeping with the position of the CPC, Lee and Woolsey voted against House Speaker Pelosi's war spending bill, as did CPC members Dennis Kucinich, John Lewis, Diane Watson, and Maxine Waters.  Four other Congress Members, two from each party, voted against the bill because they opposed funding the war.   But 65 CPC members voted for the war money.  And Woolsey, Lee, Watson, and Waters (who chairs the newly formed Out of Iraq Caucus) told their caucus members they should feel free to vote for Pelosi's bill. During the days leading up to the war vote, Pelosi and her allies made various changes to their bill, but all of them for the worse.  They removed a provision requiring the President to come to Congress before attacking Iran.  They included a requirement that Iraq allow foreign corporations to steal the bulk of its oil profits.   As CPC members committed, one by one, to voting for the bill, the bill remained the same or worsened.  The only thing the CPC may have gained from the process was a commitment to hold a separate vote on the question of Iran, but that vote has yet to be held and may not be held before Bush and Cheney get their hands on the money that could fund an attack. Just prior to the vote, two CPC members, John Lewis and Pete Stark, made strong statements in favor of voting No.  An activist group called the Backbone Campaign gave Lewis a backbone award for his statement.  We probably should have given one to Stark as well.  Lewis voted No, but Stark voted Present.   Kucinich began many months ago and lobbied nonstop, up to the last minute, in favor of a No vote.  He urged Americans to lobby their Congress Members to vote No.  As always, Kucinich set the standard, but he failed to bring many of his colleagues with him. Many of the CPC members who voted for the Pelosi bill explained that they were doing so because, while they favored something like Lee's amendment, it wasn't practical/feasible/realistic right now.  If that were true, however, CPC members would be signed on as cosponsors of bills that parallel Lee's amendment.  Lynn Woolsey's bill, HR 508, does not have 71 cosponsors.  But it does have 49, and 44 of them are CPC members.  Jim McGovern's similar bill has 26 cosponsors.  Jerrold Nadler's similar bill has 13.  Kucinich's similar bill has 2.  Senator Feingold's similar bill (he is not a CPC member) has 3.  So, the Progressive Caucus may not have a perfect record, but it has clearly accomplished something by organizing 44 members to back the bill promoted by its co-chairs.   But can the Progressive Caucus add another 169 cosponsors to Woolsey's bill, or add Pelosi to it and persuade her to badger the rest of the Democrats to get on board?  Or, if Bush vetoes Pelosi's war bill, can the Progressive Caucus persuade Pelosi to draft a better bill on attempt number two?  After all, Woolsey's bill avoids two of the things most heavily criticized in Pelosi's bill by the White House and Republicans in Congress: it doesn't micromanage the war, and it doesn't fund spinach, peanuts, and the rest of the pet projects.  If Woolsey's bill were passed and vetoed, the veto would be a clear statement against ending the war.  The veto would also, effectively, end the war.  Pelosi would be able to declare victory whether the bill was vetoed or not.  And if Pelosi pushed for Woolsey's bill and couldn't get the votes to pass it, at least she would have moved the Democratic Party in the direction of public opinion, exposed those who oppose it, and – again – ended the war.   Of course Bush is more likely to (illegally) signing-statement the bill than to veto it, and the Democratic leadership is already proposing to strip requirements out of the bill so that Bush doesn't even have to do that: http://www.afterdowningstreet.org/?q=node/20532  Other than struggling to end the war, what can we hope for from the Progressive Caucus?  What does it stand for?  The broad goals are laid out in a one-page document called The Progressive Promise: http://tinyurl.com/yxj4j9  The economic goals include health care, Social Security, jobs, affordable housing, the right to organize, and a restored and indexed minimum wage.  But single-payer health care is not specified, the jobs to be created include jobs to accomplish the fascist-sounding task of "improving homeland security," and another nationalistic goal is "to export more American products and not more American jobs."  The House has recently passed the Employee Free Choice Act, which would effectively restore the right to organize unions, assuming that it passes the Senate and Bush doesn't veto it, as Cheney has already promised he will.  In fact, it's a fairly safe bet that Bush will either veto or (illegally) signing statement any bills aimed at most of the CPC's goals. The civil rights and civil liberties goals of the Progressive Caucus include changing the PATRIOT Act, though not repealing it; protecting the privacy of Americans; extending the Voting Rights Act; reforming the electoral process; and opposing corporate consolidation of the media.  These are all good goals, though rather vague, but if you wanted to protect Americans' privacy, and the president was openly violating both it and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, wouldn't placing the White House under the rule of law through the process of impeachment be a high priority? Peace and security goals include bringing U. S. troops home from Iraq as soon as possible; rebuilding U.S. alliances around the world; constructive engagement in the United Nations and other multilateral organizations; combating hunger and the scourge of HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other infectious diseases; and "encouraging" debt relief for poor countries. And, finally, environmental goals include freeing ourselves and our economy from dependence upon imported oil and shifting to growing reliance upon renewable energy supplies and technologies, eliminating the environmental threat posed by global warming; and expanding energy-efficient transportation. It's a good list, but what about specifics?  The CPC website has those too, in the form of key bills sponsored by CPC members: http://tinyurl.com/2383rp  Here you'll find John Conyers' bill for single-payer health care (62 cosponsors); Barbara Lee's bill for no permanent military bases in Iraq (38 cosponsors); and numerous others.  Some of them are bills from the last Congress, and the site needs to be updated.   The focus of the Progressive Caucus right now, however, is the fiscal year 2008 federal budget, on which the CPC has released this position statement: 

"…we reject the misleading and grossly unfair budget for FY08 and succeeding years that President Bush has submitted to Congress.  While seeking to spend an additional $200 billion in Iraq in just the next two years [that's on top of the $100 billion that 65 members of the CPC just voted for outside the budget] and to make permanent his tax cuts that favor the very wealthiest of Americans, President Bush seeks to impose even greater financial hardship and debt on hard-working American families and our country’s most vulnerable and impoverished people.  Enough is enough.  WE WILL NOT SUPPORT a budget plan that continues to redistribute income upward and further concentrate our nation’s wealth, as has been federal policy for the past six years. [Emphasis added.] 


"Whereas the Bush budget requests $392 billion in FY08 for domestic, non-military discretionary spending – a level below the rate of inflation in the coming fiscal year and frozen thereafter, we favor providing at least $450 billion – the FY05 spending level adjusted for inflation. Furthermore, we favor reducing the exorbitant Bush request of $481.4 billion by $68.7 billion to a defense spending level of $412.7 billion in FY08.  [Remember, this does not include all of the extra hundreds of billions for war.  Nor does it include non-Pentagon military spending.]


"More specifically, we favor a budget plan that would:

  • Save from $420 - $623 billion over the next 10 years by bringing our troops home and achieving U.S. military disengagement from Iraq;
  • Save at least $68.7 billion in Pentagon spending by eliminating mostly Cold War weaponry and implementing GAO recommendations to eliminate DOD waste, fraud, and abuse;
  • Repeal Bush tax cuts  for at least the top 1% on taxpayers, thus raising at least $348 billion;
  • Raise tens of billions of dollars in increased revenue by curbing corporate welfare and collecting underreported and delinquent taxes;
  • Boost some non-military security funding to enhance homeland security and fight root causes of terrorism; and
  • Increase funding for non-military peace and security spending at home and abroad, Hurricane Katrina recovery, renewable energy development, education, health care, veterans’ health care, community development and policing, housing, food and nutrition programs, and child care.

"With these urgent fiscal priorities in mind, we want a fairer, more humane, and responsible federal budget plan for FY08 and ensuing years that truly addresses the needs and hopes of all the American people."


That's a beautiful statement, especially the commitment not to support a budget that distributes money upward.

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On Monday, Woolsey introduced the "Peace and Security Budget", a $2.8 trillion alternative budget proposal shaped by the above goals.  Woolsey's proposal, if followed for years, would balance the federal budget sooner than Bush's plan or the plans of other Democrats, and it would do so while providing more financial support to health care, education, and renewable energy.  It would manage this by trimming little corners of the mammoth military budget and repealing tax cuts for the very wealthiest.  This budget would not just eliminate some of the Pentagon's waste, but would also fund efforts that could make us safer, including nuclear nonproliferation, diplomacy, and development assistance.

 The Progressive Caucus is where Pelosi should be looking for direction.  We've all heard the line: "That would make us look weak on national security." That line is supposed to be based on public opinion, not just the opinions of media corporations and pundits working for Pentagon-funded think tanks. That line is supposed to have something to do with the general American public. But it does not.  Take a look at this survey from spring of 2005 by the Program on International Policy Attitudes (University of Maryland): http://tinyurl.com/8jzp5 According to this data, the largest cut by far that most Americans would make in federal discretionary spending is in the military budget, which they would cut by nearly a third. In particular, majorities favor reducing spending on the capacity for conducting large-scale nuclear and conventional wars. Next on the list of cuts after the "defense" budget? The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most Americans believe that spending on economic and humanitarian aid is much higher than it is, and yet they want it increased significantly. Most Americans favor multilateral approaches to security.  So does the Progressive Caucus. Let's hope they mean to stand by this approach.    






 National defense (050) The Progressive Caucus Budget will be the only budget alternative offered in this debate that will actually cut even one penny from the Pentagon budget below the full amount that President Bush requested for Fiscal Year 2008 -- an 11% boost over last year. Unified Security Budget

If Congress fully funds President Bush’s military budget request of $623 billion (including Iraq and Afghanistan operations) for next fiscal year, our nation will spend more on our armed forces next year than at any time since World War II.[1]  As Bush Administration officials defend their latest defense spending request before congressional committees, they and their supporters are also arguing for a substantial increase above this amount in future years, even as they disingenuously project spending on the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan to go down.  A consistent theme of these presentations is that military spending currently represents a relatively low percentage of our national Gross Domestic Product. We should spend more, according to this argument, because we can.

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This (arguable) idea that we can begs the question of whether we should.  As our country seeks to extricate itself from a disastrous attempt to remake the Middle East by means of military force, this is the time for a serious and overdue debate on the long-term direction of our foreign policy.  The Bush Administration’s national security doctrine of pre-emptive warfare, drawn up before the current wars were launched, prescribes an expansive, global role for the U.S. military, one that even current levels of spending and manpower don’t come close to covering.  After five years of failed tests, it’s time to ask: do the Bush doctrine of preemptive warfare and its costs make sense?  Does it make us safer and more secure?


According to current polling, majorities of Americans beyond the Washington, D.C. Beltway believe that our current aggressive, unilateral foreign policy has eroded our standing around the world and made terrorist attacks more likely.  They support a different course—a less militarized, less unilateral approach.[2]  The Iraq Study Group pointed in this direction by recommending a path out of the current Iraqi quagmire that shifts the emphasis of our national security strategy from military forces to diplomacy.


Meanwhile, the armed service chiefs and civilian Pentagon leadership of the Bush Administration are laying the groundwork to fund the expansive, global military role with a permanently expanded Pentagon budget.  This is an urgently-needed policy debate, to put it mildly, worth having.  This is one of the principal reasons why we are offering this Progressive Caucus Budget Alternative.  We are not serving the American people and American taxpayers well by glossing over this new 21st century budget challenge.

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David Swanson is the author of "When the World Outlawed War," "War Is A Lie" and "Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union." He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online (more...)

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