Norman Solomon: The progressive caucus: Enabling Obama's rightwing moves?


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

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.

That’s what happened on the first day of this year, when the “bipartisan” fiscal deal came down. 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.

Over the years, we’ve seen that President Obama is willing – even satisfied – to be rolled by Republican leaders on Capitol Hill. But that’s just part of the problem. We should also come to terms with the reality that the Progressive Caucus is routinely rolled by the president.

A two-step prototype hit the ground running in September 2009 when 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.

Since then, similar dynamics have persisted, with many Progressive Caucus members making fine statements of vigorous resolve – only to succumb on the House floor under intense pressure from the Obama administration.

We need Progressive Caucus members who are progressives first and loyal Democrats second, not the other way around. When the party hierarchy cracks the whip, they should strive to halt the rightward drift of congressional legislation, not add to it.

In the new session of Congress, the Progressive Caucus – with 72 members – retains major potential. It often puts out solid position papers like the recent Budget for All. And its leadership includes some of the sharpest progressive blades in the House. Congressmen Keith Ellison and Raul Grijalva just won re-election as caucus co-chairs, and Congresswoman Barbara Lee just became the caucus whip.

Still, none of the more than half-dozen Progressive Caucus leaders were among the seven caucus members who voted against the New Year’s Day fiscal deal – and more serious capitulation may soon be on the near horizon.

Early this month, right after the fiscal deal, the Progressive Caucus put its best foot forward by issuing a “Progressive Principles for the Next Deal” statement that vowed to “protect” Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits. But those programs will be in jeopardy before spring in tandem with votes on “sequestration” and raising the debt ceiling.

The results are likely to be very grim unless members of the Progressive Caucus are truly prepared – this time – to stand their progressive ground. Without an attitude adjustment, they’re on track to help the president betray Social Security and other essential parts of the social compact.

On a vast array of profound issues – ranging from climate change and civil liberties to drone strikes, perpetual war and a huge military budget – some individual progressives in Congress introduce outstanding bills and make excellent statements. But when the chips are down and minority leader Nancy Pelosi offloads presidential weight onto House Democrats, the Progressive Caucus rarely shows backbone with cohesive action.

What we have witnessed so far is surrender in stages – 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

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. He co-chairs the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign organized by Progressive Democrats of America. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.


We can agree to differ.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:24 am

You are entitled to your own opinion, but not to your own facts.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:48 am

I think your opinion is wrong and self-serving.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 11:35 am

No, my opinions are based on facts that can easily be accessed on the internet.
Your attempts at mud-slinging are pathetic.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 8:13 pm

cheap gas to them who don't mind an innocent nine year old girl or two -- or two thousand -- getting their heads blown in half by American ordnance in order to be able to fill up the ol' SUV on the cheap, but instead oil went to 100.00 US per barrel from 30 and has been fluctuating between 60 and 100 ever since.

Rupert Murdoch lied.

Who could have guessed?

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:19 pm

increased military presence in the mid-east.

We also neutered the terror threat from many locations, driving into Africa which is much less startegically important to the west.

We're also in a better position to support Israel and strike at Irna's nuclear weapon threat.

These are all vital strategic imperatives.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:34 pm

Yes, sure. Just not to the American people.

International petroleum interests and radical zionists, maybe. (In the latter case, they can be said to falsely believe that, perhaps.)

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:43 pm
Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:54 pm

At first, people rally behind the flag or risk being called a traitor. After a short time, public support deteriorated.

If I want your viewpoint, I'll watch Fox News.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 4:30 pm

Somalia, Yemen and Afghanistan ... is al-Qaeda's top recruiting tool.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 9:50 am
Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:26 am

We're not talking expanding authority. Netflix is adding more as they are selling or communicating. The Facebook extended archive is a little more for a targeted audience, develop and deliver products to customers online and also do it with many more people at once? Make a promise to a reality? You will need to advertise your products at any location.

Posted by Student Loans People on May. 30, 2013 @ 9:00 pm

"Won The Wars?"
How did I miss the news?

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

On what planet did we lose those wars the way we lost the vietname war?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:24 am

Replacing one dictator with another is not "victory."
"Winning" a war is when the other side signs a surrender document and lays down their arms. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan achieved precisely the opposite.

Orwell must be spinning in his grave.....

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:44 am

and supportive of terrorists is a definite victory.

Whether a side "surrenders" or not is moot. If we invade, defeat their army and occupy their land, we won by any reasonable definition of war. We lost in Vietnam because the Democrats didn't fully commit to a winning strategy.

We have won every war in our history except Vietnam.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 11:34 am

The Korean War was (is) a tie.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 3:37 pm

But now you bring that up, I'd call that one a tie.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 5:36 pm

"We" have only "won" "wars" against tiny countries like Panama and Grenada.
If not for the Russians, we might all be speaking German today.
Vietnam, Korea, Somalia, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan; any military historian will tell you these were losses. Of course, if you make up definitions of winning and losing from whole cloth, then you can say whatever you want.

Posted by Joseph Thomas on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 8:11 pm

opinion, or it is assumed that their vote would break down the same way as those who did vote. There is quite simply no evidence to support the excuse that your guy loses every time only because everyone who supports him somehow magically didn't quite make it to the polls.

It's political exediency that causes all Presidents to move to the center. it's not that their view necessarily change, but rather that reality demands consensus and so extreme views don't get enacted.

Example: Bush wanted to privatize social security and felt he had a mandate to do that. but the votes weren't there and W moved to the left, in deeds if not in thoughts.

The real point here is that there is no political capital in Obama appeasing the left-wing fringes and so he does not. He prefers the represent the political center and that's fine with most voters.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 10:12 am

-- and if he had, he would have LOST. His abortive move to privatize the social insurance program represents his MOVE TO THE RIGHT!

Why do you claim that a move to the right is actually a move to the left? It is a lie to cover another lie: your big lie.

Your big lie is that "all politicians move towards the center" and you need that lie to cover yet ANOTHER lie that you repeatedly tell -- i.e.:that American democracy is perfectly healthy and the American people are getting what they want out of it.

Since NOTHING could be further from the truth, the lie is told

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:37 am

It may not have been part of his formal platform, but it was no secret that he supported private investment as a key part of saving SS.

And of course, it still hasn't been saved.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:11 am

if its funds were invested in the equity markets during the crash of 2008, like so many investors 401K's. You will argue that the market has recovered and it has over four years later because the Fed is inflating a bubble. When it crashes again (as it always does,) Social Security would once again take a huge hit if it were privatized. The fund managers will make their fees, but isn't that much of the point.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:28 am

It's gone from it's bottom of 666 in 2009 to nearly 1500.

And who says that the funds would be 100% invested in US equities? In fact it would be invested in a range of diversified assets.

Pro money managers will go better than a government official.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:32 pm

Any problem with Social Security is not the return on the fund (whose surplus is being stolen to fund the government at large.)

Any investment losses are catastrophic to people who are about to need Social Security for their retirement.

I have worked with many people who had to delay their retirements because of the losses to their pension plans during the 2000 and 2008 crashes.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 4:34 pm

because you weren't sufficiently diversified. There's much more to investing than mindlessly buying shares.

Social Security does not have a "fund" at all. It's an IOU.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:22 am

in which the participants had little choice in investment mix, especially in 2000. Many, many investors lost much of their "wealth" because of the 2008 financial crisis and market crash. That alone is a compelling reason to keep Social Security out of the hands of Wall Street, a viewpoint the vast majority of Americans share.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:40 am

401K. The only type of plan where they cannot choose their investments is the defined benefit plan but, in that case, it doesn't matter anyway as the benefit is "defined" and the company pays the difference (assuming it doesn't bankrupt them as it did with GM).

Social Security doesn't have a fund at all. It's just a promise.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 11:32 am

The pension plan to which I refer is a money purchase plan with no investment choice and then limited investment choices for its participants (since shifted to a different fund manager with many more options.)

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

Either they are DB or there are investment options

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 5:35 pm

existing and past pension plans?

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

Collodial silver topical how to get rid of acne treatments have side effects however, which usually
come with exorbitant prices.

Posted by How to get rid of acne on Jun. 17, 2013 @ 4:42 pm

Progressive Caucus is numerically small and cancelled out by Teapartiers. Middle rules.

Posted by pagebike on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 5:51 pm

The progressive caucus is the largest caucus in the House with like 70 members.

Posted by marcos on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 7:13 pm
Posted by Eddie on Jan. 18, 2013 @ 9:44 pm

because there are another 460 or so who are moderate or right-wing.

Ergo, Obama doesn't need the far left because he's got the numbers elsewhere AND because the left-wing causus has nowhere else to go.

Either the causus stand behind Obama and take their lumps, or they become even more irrelevant.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:08 am

We need to lose this defeatist attitude of lesser evilism and withhold our votes from Democrats who don't pay attention to progressives. It may take a couple cycles of losses, but it's the only way to get them Democrats to pay attention.

Posted by Greg on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 9:53 am

They keep saying they'll get a "cleaner" party more open to their goals if they lose a few more seats - since losing the presidency and Senate don't seem to be enough for them.

Have you ever considered that progressive's goals aren't shared by many voters?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:07 am

policies are consistently rejected by the people and the voters, because they think that they "know better" than the majority of us.

By refusing to compromize, they become irrelevant.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:20 am

Progressive ideas are broadly popular among the American people, who poll in agreement with them and generally vote for candidates who campaign on such platforms but then reneg on their promises after taking office -- when the allure of lobbiest campaign cash often becomes irresistable.

You claim Progressive ideas are not popular to cover for the fact that the political system is broken; just like claiming that American presidents "always move to the center" when they *always* move *right*.

Are there more lies? I think so, and would like to formulate a list of the top 10 which get told over and over again.

Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

not see so few genuine left-wingers in Congress. Hexk, Progressives cannot even win mayoral elections in San Francisco let alone the ehartland.

America is a naturally conservative country and, in fact, the Democrats would be deemed a right-wing party in any European country.

If progressive ideas have so much support, why have the people never implemented socialized healthcare, a progressive tax code or a smaller military?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

Lobbyist money flows from the left and right.

The political system is broken, I agree, you think it is broken because people don't vote the way of lobbyists you agree with.

Not agreeing with your opinions as fact are lies?

For a guy who keeps claiming his own genius you sure have a hard time with this basic stuff.

Posted by matlock on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 1:54 pm
Posted by lillipublicans on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 8:30 pm

you have nowhere else to go if you want any sniff of power.

They need the moderates, not the extremists.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 10:16 am

This is what happened in 2010. How did that work?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

Most likely Progressives would be blamed for things getting worse.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:43 pm

communism failed and collapsed, France's Hollande is in trouble already, and the American left continues to lost and neglected in the long grass.

Posted by Guest on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 12:55 pm

deteriorating since 1970, except for the top 10%-15% and I'm being generous with the percentages.

In Central and South America, where left (socialist) parties have won, conditions for the vast majority have improved. To wit, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Brazil, Bolivia.

Corporate control of the political system in the US prevents popularly supported progressive programs like single-payer healthcare, demilitarization, or a return to a more progressive tax system.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 19, 2013 @ 4:59 pm

is better off in many ways, not least because technology has advanced so much. Nobody 30 years ago has digital TV, cell phones, portable computers or of course the internet.

So we're all better off in many ways. The disparity between rich and poor may be greater, but how important is that if the poor now are still better off than the poor then?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:20 am

in 1970 because real wages have been declining, regardless of the emergence of new consumer products since then.

Posted by Eddie on Jan. 20, 2013 @ 10:46 am