There's something happening here
What it is ain't exactly clear
There's a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware
I think it's time we stop, children, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down
Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote an article for In These Times predicting that congressional progressives would be emboldened to assert themselves in an unprecedented way under an Obama administration - and that the broader progressive movement would help itself immensely by focusing on working with and strengthening those lawmakers. Now, after eight years of a rubber-stamp Congress, that prediction seems to be coming true.
In the last few weeks, we've seen:
- Senate Democrats publicly press Obama to make the economic recovery package far more robust.
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi publicly challenge Obama to be bolder on taxes.
- Congressional progressives challenge the Obama administration - against its wishes - to include bankruptcy reforms in the economic stimulus package.
- House Appropriations Chairman Dave Obey (D-WI) tell the administration it's stimulus package is too small.
- Transportation Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) expose how Obama's push for tax cuts is crowding out transportation infrastructure funding
- A bipartisan House coalition make one of the new Congress's first votes a statement of opposition to the Bush-Obama bailout for Wall Street, and for much stronger bailout oversight.
- Progressive Democrats, joining with the blogosphere and outside progressive movement, push a House amendment to boost infrastructure spending in Obama's stimulus proposal.
This week, this nascent progressive pressure system emanating from Capitol Hill and the outside progressive media/movement intensified.
|Rep. Peter DeFazio took to MSNBC to hammer - in very specific terms - the free market fundamentalists in the Obama administration he says are harming the new president. Discussing the economic recovery package, DeFazio told Rachel Maddow:
There's a pretty good consensus among members of the House that it should be more. But the dictate from on high in the negotiations with Obama's advisers - I don't think the President is there - I think he's ill-advised by Larry Summers. Larry Summers hates infrastructure, and some of these other economists - who were very much part of creating the problem. Now they're gonna solve the problem. And they don't like infrastructure
DeFazio's call to action was followed up by an outside-inside campaign to add more transportation funding to the stimulus bill - outside pressure is coming from blogospheric drumbeating, inside pressure is coming from lawmakers sponsoring the amendment. And we have the facts with us: As ThinkProgress notes, while 33 percent of Obama's stimulus proposal is devoted to tax cuts, just 7.5 percent is devoted to transportation infrastructure.
What's important here, though, is not just the data, but also the dynamic.
Suddenly, we have a Congress pushing the executive branch to be more progressive - and that's a big deal.
Clearly, this is the product of many different factors. In my In These Times piece, I predicted it would have something to do with the fact that the most senior Democrats in Congress tend to be some of the most progressive. Undoubtedly, the crisis circumstances our country faces plays a role. But let's not underestimate our own impact.
During the Clinton Era, Republicans and the corporatist wing of the Democratic Party routinely marginalized progressives, and progressives' response was that of a WATB: We deferred to a triangulating president, while whimpering to ourselves about the horrors of getting routinely trampled. But in the last decade, the progressive movement has changed. We've been aggressively working to construct the infrastructure and political support system that could move Congress to exert progressive pressure on the government. And now it looks like that's happening, to the point where a senior House Democrat like DeFazio is willing to go on television and name names (in this case, Larry Summers), and other Democrats are willing to effectively challenge a new Democratic president with amendments on the floor of the U.S. House.
Yes, as Buffalo Springfield would say, there's something happening here. And sure, what it is ain't exactly clear - but it is progressive in nature. And it has the potential to be really transformative.
If, as I said in my last newspaper column, we're going to close the gulf between the rhetoric of hope and the real action of change, it will be through our work continuing to create the conditions for this new dynamic to thrive. The bolder the Democratic Congress, the more it can reject czarism and reassert its constitutional role, the more likely the White House will be to embrace more progressive policies, and thus the more likely those policies will be legislated into law. That, IMHO, should be one of the basic formulas we are all working off of, as it is one of the most simple paths to concrete results.