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Thursday, April 01, 2010

Congressional Socialists: A Glimpse into the First Decade -- and our Future?

Part 2 of an excellent 3 part series on the Congressional Progressive Caucus by Brenda J. Elliott of RBO

Americans now acting surprised about Congress's radical agenda, which is now at odds with public opinion, only have themselves to blame for not having paid attention for the past 18 years. The signs have been visible, consistent and clear.

In 1992, after the House Progressive Caucus (now the Congressional Progressive Caucus) was helped to organize by the Democratic Socialists of America, the U.S. affiliate of the newly-out-of-the-Marxist-closet Socialist International, it joined with the Congressional Black Caucus to introduce "A Budget for New World Realities and for Rebuilding America," an alternative federal budget for FY-93. (It was defeated by a vote of 335 to 87.)

In a May 15, 1992 letter to the New York Times, Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Calif.), the first openly socialist Congressman after WWII, proposed that military budget savings should "be shifted to meet urgent domestic needs." Dellums wrote that the Clinton adminstration should "embark upon an ambitious program of national renewal by allocating Federal resources for economic conversion planning, job training and veterans' adjustments, as well as by making the necessary investments in housing, transportation, education and health care that would both solve national problems and generate jobs and economic growth."

The CPC/CBC alternative federal budget was supported by Coalition for New Priorities, a Chicago-based "umbrella network of almost 100 organizations from labor unions to community groups fighting to reorder public policy and federal budget priorities." The Coalition was then chaired by radical professor Adolph Reed, Jr., who teaches political science at the University of Pennsylvania and serves on the board of directors for the lobby group, Public Citizen Inc..

In January 1995 the CPC/CBC, headed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), then the "only [admitted] socialist in Congress," introduced "The Progressive Promise: Fairness" in Congress, thereby launching a "Cancel the Contract" campaign to challenge Newt Gingrich's "Contract with America."

Wendy S. Ross, USIA Congressional affairs writer, wrote in a January 1995 press release:

    Caucus members, including House Minority Whip David Bonior and former House Armed Services Chairman Ron Dellums, urged the passage of a progressive 11-point contract -- "The Progressive Promise: Fairness" and the cancellation of the Republican contract. In contrast to the Republican blueprint that centers on tax cuts, decreased regulation and decreased social spending, the progressive Democrats say their plan promised "to extend a 'fair shake' to all Americans" with a plan "rooted in the principles of social and economic justice, non-discrimination, and tolerance" that would "embody national priorities which reflect the interests and needs of all the American people, not just the wealthy and powerful."

The "Cancel the Contract" campaign included eleven bills the CPC/CBC said would "protect the poor, minorities and working class." Some of the following will bring a range of reactions from smiles to smirks to total disgust and signs of recognition that we've heard this all before -- and it's back.

  1. The Fiscal Fairness Act: would allow a waiver of the balanced budget requirement in any year in which the national unemployment rate exceeds four percent.
  2. The Equal Justice before the Law Act: an anti-crime package that would retain much of the 1994 crime bill plus tougher enforcement against white-collar crime and violations of child labor laws.
  3. The Corporate Responsibility Act: would cut subsidies and tax breaks to many corporations, require more cleanup efforts from polluting companies and strengthen collective bargaining laws.
  4. The Family Foundation Act: would raise the minimum wage, strengthen child-support collection and aim to help parents find affordable child care and health care.
  5. The American Homemakers and Caregivers Act: would give tax breaks to spouses who stay at home with children under six years old, or who are spending money on home health care, education expenses or to start a small business.
  6. The National Economic Security Act: would cut the Pentagon and CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) budgets and use the money for domestic social needs.
  7. The Cradle to Grave Health Care Act: legislation to establish a state-based single payer health care plan, while requiring a sense of the Congress resolution against cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
  8. The Job Creation and Invest in America Act: would create at least one million jobs in the United States in each of the next two years from new investment to re-build and upgrade U.S. physical infrastructure and clean-up the environment.
  9. The Taking Back Our Congress Act: a measure to impose campaign finance and lobbying reform on both the House and Senate and authorize some public financing of congressional elections to make it more affordable for more candidates to run for office regardless of personal wealth.
  10. The Public Interest Legislature Act: would strengthen financial disclosure requirements on members of Congress.
  11. The Export American Products. Not American Jobs Act: would eliminate tax and trade breaks for American companies that produce goods offshore, and prohibit new fast-track trade agreements without enforceable worker, safety and environmental provisions.
Sanders told John Nichols of The Progressive, in a May 1996 interview, that "the American left should put down the cappuccino and start going door-to-door explaining that class is the issue and that socialism really can work in America." But it's Bernie Sanders 2010 who should listen to what Bernie Sanders 1996 told Nichols, who reported (emphasis added):
    "If you accept the Gingrich point of view and the corporate mentality, then you say: 'It is too bad that the standard of living of everybody is going down; it is too bad that the gap between the rich and the poor is growing wider; it is too bad that all of our jobs are going to Mexico and China and that corporate America is downsizing. It's all just terribly bad, and we understand how much pain people are feeling. But, obviously, the government can't play any role in this because we know that if the government does anything it will only make the situation worse. So, clearly, we need the government to play less of a role - maybe provide some education and training, but nothing else,'" says Sanders, with the mix of mockery and deep seriousness that marks him as one of America's most entertaining and impassioned politicians.
Fastforward to November 1998, when the Washington Times cited a repeat of the CPC's "Progressive Agenda." Included were "cutting defense spending by 50 percent, a massive government public works program to ensure full employment, 'Canadian-style, single-payer health care reform,' and 'broader affirmative action programs in hiring, promotion and scholarship.'" Extremist!!! Demonizing the Opposition The following year, in February 1999 -- not much different than accusations being pushed by Progressives in Congress and the media today -- Progressive Democrats came up with a "strategy of labeling GOP conservatives as extremists." However, then as now, as reported in Insight on the News, it was "the ideology of the House Progressive Caucus [that] may be the most extreme in Congress." James P. Lucier wrote:
    The word "extremist" comes easily to the lips of many House Democrats, particularly as a term of nonendearment describing their Republican colleagues. But it is more than that; it is part of a calculated strategy to marginalize Republicans and the kind of mom-and-pop, family individualism that polls show is the core support of the GOP. [...] Although some Democrats, such as California Rep. Henry Waxman, were calling Republicans "extremists" as far back as 1991, the practice intensified when Democrats were outraged that Republicans took control of Congress in 1994. House Minority Whip David Bonior of Michigan laid down the battle lines. "We will make our points on behalf of middle-class families," the bearded Bonior said on Feb. 21, 1995, as the new Congress got down to business. "We will point out that the Republicans are extreme" He began by becoming the self-appointed tormentor of Speaker Newt Gingrich, leading Democrats to file more than 70 ethics charges against the speaker -- all but one of which were dismissed by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics) as frivolous.
You may recall that, in February 2009, it was former Michigan Congressman and Obama adviser, David Bonior, who met with union presidents to broker a deal to reunite them. Lucier enumerated a list of tormentors who have obviously not changed their modus operandi too much:
    Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank also jumped on board the "extremist" strategy. "There's a sense of common purpose," he said of the Democrats on Nov. 14, 1995. "The Republicans' extremism has done that for us." Michigan Rep. John Conyers stated in July 1996, "Democrats are clearly ready for the fight that Republican extremists want to have." In October 1996, Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, in her hot election campaign against Republican challenger John Mitnick, told her voters: "Our best days are yet to come as long as we don't surrender our future to the clouded vision of Newt Gingrich and the extremists." [...] All this might be dismissed as ruthless partisan politics in which ideas and programs are displaced by a Machiavellian, no-holds-barred grab for power, were it not for the fact that the members of Congress quoted here, including Bonior, all are members of the Progressive Caucus in the House, a group dedicated to an ideological reconstruction of society.
In 1999, as Lucier pointed out, the CPC was not in the majority and its plan to essentially remake America had to wait for awhile. (Lucier also reported on the then recent discovery that the CPC's website was being "hosted" by the Democratic Socialists of America. This caused the CPC to "rush to dissociate the caucus from the dreadful s-word," even though the DSA website was "the only place that [listed] all the members, their addresses, their e-mail addresses and the statements issued by the group." Lucier writes that Ron Dellums, who wrote a letter to the New York Times in 1992 about CPC/CBC's alternative federal budget, "A Budget for New World Realities and for Rebuilding America," was listed as a member of the DSA and had actually served as DSA vice president before he retired from Congress in 1998.) When the Bush administration was working to affect tax cuts in February 2001, although their tactics failed, Progressive Democrats threw "any argument they [could] find," Matthew Robinson wrote at Human Events. Again, they pulled out familiar arguments:
    Sen. Paul Wellstone (D.-Minn.), writing in The Progressive, warns that "tax cuts will hurt the children." Rep. Charles Rangel (D.-N.Y.), meanwhile, made an ironic appeal to what is ordinarily a Republican agenda item. "[Bush's] plan," he said, "will undermine national defense to pay for excessive tax cuts for those in the upper brackets." Democrats even drove a Lexus onto the Senate plaza to compare what they described as the car-sized tax cut for "the rich" in the Bush plan to the "muffler-- sized" cut that will go to those in the lower income brackets. The ordinarily liberal Los Angeles Times went so far as to label these Democratic tactics as little more than "gimmicks to get attention."
Misdirection: "trigger" The CPC/CBC also came up with the now-famous "trigger" tactic. Robinson wrote:
    The biggest Democratic entrants in the debate, however, were a "triggered tax cut" that would put strict conditions on actual implementation of any cut that is passed, and a "tax dividend" that would return a flat dollar amount to every citizen. Trigger-Locks? The special "triggered tax cut" would ostensibly stop tax cuts in the event that the surplus dries up. "Simply put, a triggered tax cut would be based on an actual surplus in the Treasury. When the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget certify a surplus in Washington, a tax cut is triggered for the following year," writes Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D.-Calif). "The devil is in their trigger details," said Pete Sepp, a tax specialist at the National Taxpayers Union. Tauscher has not produced specific legislative language yet, but already there are signs that such a trigger would make a tax cut more difficult to carry out even when there is a real surplus.
This, too, will sound familiar:
    Another hitch: The Democratic "trigger" puts no countervailing restriction on spending. The safety provision works only one-way: It limits what can go back to taxpayers in cuts, but not what can go out from Congress in spending. Thus, the surplus "certified" at the end of any given fiscal year would depend on how much the Democrats had succeeded in spending. With an automatic tax-cut-stopping trigger in place, Congress could spend away any potential tax cut before it could be activated.
Tax-and-Spend, Spend, Spend Rep. Bernie Sanders also came up with the ingenious "income redistribution plan" called The American People's Dividend plan, Robinson wrote. It "would give every man, woman and child in the country $300 per year for ten years regardless of whether they made any income at all, or paid any tax." It should come as no surprise that the bill had "48 co-sponsors, mostly members of the House Progressive Caucus." The estimated cost? $900 billion, "one-third of the alleged $2.7 trillion surplus that the Democratic leaders [said they were] willing to 'spend' on a tax cut."
    Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D.-Ohio), a co-sponsor, said, "This makes the overwhelming proportion of tax relief available for the bulk of the population. Everyone benefits. The American people's dividend gives the same benefit to everybody, because we are all equal shareholders in the American economy."
Robinson added: "Under Sanders' plan, the IRS would be converted to a welfare agency doling out $300 checks to people who, in some cases, would not even be working. It is not a tax cut plan, but a wealth redistribution plan-and would provide almost no stimulation for savings and investment." Bernie Sanders likes to hand out taxpayers money. In the past 18 months or so, he voted YES on: ObamaCare; $2 billion more for Cash for Clunkers program in August 2009; $192B additional anti-recession stimulus spending and for a Congressional pay raise; modifying bankruptcy rules to avoid mortgage foreclosures in May 2009; an additional $825 billion for Porkulus I in February 2009; and the $60B stimulus package for jobs, infrastructure, & energy in September 2008. Yet, when running for Congress in 1990 Sanders condemned the savings and loan bailout:
    How ironic that the Congress was able to find $500 billion in order to bail out the real estate speculators and junk bond dealers, but the same Congress can find no money for our children, for the environment, for health care or for the needs of our senior citizens."
Final Word In a February 1995 interview by Insight on the News, Sanders responded to a question about his "status as an independent socialist":
    "Politics is not always about winning, ... Sometimes, it's about laying the groundwork for the future."


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