Democrats against Democrats ?

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The CPC gaining ground

“To build a more just and humane society”, is supposed to be the aim of the seventy six members of the United States Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC). Lucky for the American people as this liberal caucus has only grown in importance since its creation by the openly socialist Bernie Sanders in 1991.

The aim of the CPC is and has always been to advance a liberal and progressive agenda in Congress. However, from small beginnings, the caucus has considerably evolved. It used not to be really efficient in applying its core principles such as economic justice and security for all, protecting and preserving civil rights and civil liberties and promoting global peace and security. However, the arrival of Obama at the presidency as well as Ellison’s leadership with Raul Grijalva of Arizona seemed to have renewed the caucus and made it more effective than ever.

In terms of numbers, the CPC has only grown over past years, being the largest ideological caucus within the Democratic Party. Indeed, the caucus is composed of 76 members of Congress and three in the Senate – Roland Burris from Illinois, Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Tom Udall from New Mexico. It represents a way bigger segment of the Progressive caucus than at its beginning. Indeed, the CPC used to be a marginal group within the Democratic caucus !

Under, R. Reagan and G.H.W. Bush, the income inequality and tax cuts increased significantly and the Democrat’s response was not going as far as a Bernie Sanders had whished. This was the reason of the creation of this small, left-wing and progressive caucus.

In the 1990s, despite its many attempts at getting attention (with “The Progressive Promise: Fairness” for instance) the caucus remained on the (left) side. Then comes Democrat President Barack Obama. If many progressives were disappointed by the 2009 and 2010 years as they did not managed to transform the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in a more left oriented manner, one cannot deny the boost given to the CPC’s action by the arrival of Obama’s democratic administration as cooperation was –most of the time- easier.

In December, after the loss of the Democratic majority in Congress (the worst electoral defeat in 60 years), Ellison and Grijalva were elected co-chairs of the caucus. With these two men, the CPC took new directions and established new goals, one of them being to unify the caucus and mobilize its members in order to make its action more efficient. Anybody would agree on the successful realization of this aim, just by looking at the diversity as well as the many members of the caucus. Thus the CPC has thrive over the years.

Obama and the CPC working hand in hand

It is generally agreed that cooperating in a context of unified control of the executive-legislative political is easier than in a divided government. As a part of the US Democratic Party, the Congressional Progressive Caucus often shares the same purposes as those of the White House. With the election of Barack Obama at the presidency, the CPC has been able to increase its clout the US’s national policy.

This collaboration between members of the progressive caucus and the White House was visible in the minimum wage issue. Congressional Progressive Caucus Co-Chairs, Raúl M. Grijalva introduced with others 28 congressmen the Pay Workers a Living Wage Act, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020. The bill was supported by two hundred economists who shared the idea that raising the minimum wage would be positive for the American workers as well as the national economy. The reform passed with an executive order from B. Obama : what a victory for the CPC !

Another example of the close relationship between the Obama administration and the CPC is their collaboration on the immigration issue. In october 2014, Obama announced an executive action which allowed to five millions migrants –the so called “aliens”- living in America to stay in the country, without being afraid of being expelled by the authorities. This measure was a direct consequence of the CPC, which pushed and pressured the White House to act in that direction. After the announcement. Grijalva did not hide his satisfaction: “I am proud of President Obama for standing by his word, and standing with immigrant communities tonight,” he said.

The proximity between the Democrat presidency and the CPC is not simply understandable by some ideological acquaintance, even though it surely is of an importance. As the most important caucus in the Congress, the CPC has an important political weight, which can encourage the President to gain their favors in order to facilitate the vote of other crucial laws for his policy. The president needs the support and loyalty of all his partisans, just like his partisans need his. Nonetheless, relations between the Congressional Progressive Caucus and President Obama are not always so simple, in spite of them sharing common interests.

Obama and the Congressional Progressive Caucus : a complicated relationship…

It could appear paradoxical, but agreements between Democrats are not that easy to build. With a liberal government, the Congressional Progressive Caucus should be delighted, because a progressive agenda will be promoted by the administration. But this would be forgetting the magnificence of the political world, in which nothing seems simple… Indeed it did not take a long time for the CPC to express its dissatisfaction regarding the White House’s policy. Recently the CPC manifested its opposition on Obama’s administration latest project: the TPA (Trade Promotion Authority)

 Logically we could imagine, that because they are facing a divided government, union and solidarity would be the Democrats’ strategy in a way to promote the agenda desired. But the CPC decided, against logic, to fight some of the major projects of Obama’s administration. The Trade Promotion Authority would have allowed the President to « fast-track » trade deals through Congress, such as the twelve nation Trans-Pacific Partnership. Only an up-or-down vote would have enable the trade to pass. But the Congressional progressive caucus fought vigorously against that new legislation promoted by President Obama. The President of the USA worked hard to convince the House Democrats not to vote down the bill, in particular the TPA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) that permits to help any worker who suffers from free-trade, but Obama is also facing Keith Ellison who is a well-known fighter of the free-trade. Even the Minority leader Nancy Pelosi, predecessor of John Boehner at the Speakership, expressed and promoted the opposition to Obama’s bill. It is an evidence that trade should be regulated and should promote the well-being of the population. But there are no guarantees that the American economy will continue to evolve positively! In fact instead of being a spectator of the globalization, Obama’s administration is trying as best as they can to conduct that economical phenomenon in favor of the American economy.

 After a hard and long combat, Obama finally succeeded to pass the TPA which enhanced his powers to negotiate major trade agreements with Asia and Europe. But that fight let us see the real face of Congress: a large and wild arena in which personal interests are dominating and where cooperation is dying. Obviously the CPC had been disappointed by Obama’s first term, which explain the quick opposition that emerged from its members when Obama called for help. How sad that those systematic oppositions and conflicts are the gridlock of the American legislative process !

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