by BURKELY HERMANN
Many people assume that the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC)—made up of 75 members—is progressive in its ideas and practice. After all, the CPC defines itself as “rooted in four core principles: fighting for economic justice and security for all, protecting and preserving our civil rights and civil liberties, promoting global peace and security, and advancing environmental protection and energy independence.” However, I looked into campaign contributions and voting records of the members of the CPC on numerous issues and found the so-called Congressional “Progressive” Caucus is anything but.
One must first start with campaign contributions, which often determine a representative’s vote. After comparing the lists of donors that contributed to each member of the caucus in the 2012 session (using data from the Center for Responsive Politics, I found the top five companies that bankroll the CPC members [the full list is here]: Honeywell International, AT&T, Comcast, Lockheed Martin, and Google. It goes without saying that these business connections affect their legislative decisions and threaten any progressive direction of the caucus.
Next I examined how these contributions influenced the CPC member’s votes on different bills, which concerned civil liberties, energy and other issues. Here are the exact details of how the 75 declared members of the CPC voted. Below I break down CPC member’s support for a number of dangerous laws.
1. “Cap n’ Giveaway Bill”: The American Clean Energy and Security Act
54 members of the CPC supported this bill (73%) [vote count]. The bill was pushed as part of President Obama’s climate policy, so we shouldn’t be surprised by the CPC’s support of the bill. The bill substitutes carbon offsets for actual cuts in emissons, gives perverse incentives for those who get pollution credits, and serves as a form of corporate welfare. Let us remember that this bill was supported by Gang Green (big environmental groups) and companies ranging from Nike, Dow Chemical, Starbucks, Exelon, and General Electric, while at the same time being opposed by the Oil & Gas lobby. Despite this, the vast majority of the CPC supported this business-friendly bill. One must ask if this is a progressive caucus or the faithful servents of big business?
2. American “Transnational” Relief Act of 2012 (ARA)
51 CPC members supported this bill (69%) [vote count here and here]. This law, which was created during the manufactured “fiscal cliff” crisis by the Deregulator-in-Chief, Ben Bernanke, of the Fed. He eliminated the Alternative Minimum Tax made under the Reagan Administration, which applies in the instance of the payroll tax holiday, or no relevant tax laws. The ARA gives those who earn between $250,000 and $450,000 (for couples) and $200,000 and $400,000 (for individuals) tax cuts while raising tax rates on those above this limit to Clinton-era levels. This law I call the American “Transnational” Relief Act of 2012 because it has at least eight subsidies for big business, among other ridiculous provisions which even threatened science funding. The votes on this law seemed to further prove that the CPC is pro-business caucus catering to multi-nationals.
3. “The Anti-Occupy Act”: The Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement act of 2011 Act (FRBGIA)
48 CPC members supported this bill (68%) [vote count]. At the time, the Wall Street Journal wrote that “the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011 has been called “the Anti-Occupy” bill [because] as the ACLU points out, it was the elimination of one word from an existing law that could make life harder for protesters. The language has been changed so that the actor only need behave “knowingly,” which would mean knowing one was in a restricted area but not necessarily that he or she was committing a crime. This small change would allow the Secret Service to arrest protesters more easily, the ACLU said in a statement.”
“whomever knowingly enters or remains in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so; knowingly, and with intent to impede or disrupt the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions, engages in disorderly or disruptive conduct in, or within such proximity to, any restricted building or grounds when, or so that, such conduct, in fact, impedes or disrupts the orderly conduct of Government business or official functions.”
The broad wording of this law is deeply troubling because it could easily stop non-violent civil disobedience at ‘protected areas’, or those events designated as National Special Security Events (NSSEs). NSSEs have included numerous Republican and Democratic conventions, the NATO summit in 2012, and major sporting events.
4. The Authorization of Military Force (AUMF)
40 CPC members supported this bill (56%) [vote count]. The (AUMF) passed in 2001. Let’s consider the broad implications of this law. As Angus King said in a recent hearing on the law that the Pentagon has declared that the world is a battlefield and that it can even “put boots on the ground in Yemen now under this document” without approval of Congress. Barbara Lee warned us on the passing of the law, which also inadvertently approved of the invasion of Afghanistan. She stated that we must be “careful not to embark on an open-ended war with neither an exit strategy nor a focused target”. Unfortunately, she described exactly what the “War on Terror” has become. Members of the CPC who voted for this bill should be ashamed of themselves.
There are a number of other very damaging laws supported by a majority of CPC members. These include the Bank Bailout in 2008 (supported by 38 CPC members [vote count]), and the Monsanto Protection Act (supported by 28 CPC members [vote count]). 17 members of the CPC supported the USA PATRIOT Act [vote count] and NDAA 2013 [vote count] with smaller numbers of CPC members voting for the Iraq War Resolution [vote count]. The most interesting phenomenon is how in 2012 none of the Caucus supported CISPA, but when it was reintroduced in 2013, 18 CPC members voted for it [vote count]. I don’t know why this change would occur, but it could be because of increased lobbying efforts for the law, or the fact that internet giants didn’t necessarily line up against the law like with SOPA and PIPA.
It is important to note that the caucus could never unanimously commit not to cut Social Security or any other social programs. To get a sense of the “progressive” range of the caucus’ members remember that current Democratic Party majority leader, Nancy Pelosi, peacenik, Dennis Kucinich, and the former Secretary of Health and Human Services, Hilda Solis, were all former members of the Caucus.
A post by Solomon published on Free Press’s website states that there is a failure of the caucus to “stand up to President Obama on many vital matters is one of the most important – and least mentioned – political dynamics of this era.” 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. We should come to terms with the reality that the Progressive Caucus is routinely rolled by the president on a vast array of profound issues. These issues range from climate change and civil liberties to drone strikes, perpetual war and a huge military budget. It’s true that some individual progressives in CPC introduce outstanding bills and make excellent statements. But when the chips are down the Progressive Caucus rarely shows backbone with cohesive action.
It’s interesting to note that according to the Center for Responsive Politics 14 members of the CPC donated money to Obama’s 2009 inauguration, however 21 members of the CPC donated money for the 2013 inauguration! This shows that sizable minorities of the CPC agree with war criminal, President Obama, enough to donate money to him.
Glen Ford of Black Agenda Report argues that “the closest thing [Obama] has to an opposition [to his austerity agenda]– at least on paper – is the CPC, whose two co-chairs introduced a bill that would turn the austerity juggernaut on its head.” Despite this clear evidence demonstrating the CPC is mostly a fraud, publications like The Nation and Mother Jones praise the caucus time and time again. Likely this is because as investigative reporter David DeGraw wrote on AmpedStatus “liberal” and “progressive” sites use “divisive partisan rhetoric”. “These sites [while being] critical of the Democratic Party to a point, consistently focus the blame on the Republican Party [by] running headlines and commentaries aimed at dividing people along partisan lines and limiting thoughts into groupthink traps. For this they are rewarded with financial support.” After analyzing the votes of the CPC it is perfectly clear whom the caucus serves; the wealthy elite that they depend on for contributions. The result is a progressive caucus that has abandoned any serious progressive ideals and marches the country farther and farther down the path towards plutocracy.
Burkely Hermann is an online writer and activist who maintains numerous blogs to inform the public on local, national, and international issues.