Tuesday, July 05, 2005

California Dreaming.....

A bit of California Dreaming to while away the Bush years. From the San Francisco Chronicle today, via Common Dreams....

Liberal Legislative Caucus Envisions Post-Bush Era by Edward Epstein

If the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which is probably the closest thing Bay Area liberal Democrats have to a government in waiting, were to take over in Washington, these would become national policy:

Access to affordable, high-quality health care would be universal. Social Security benefits would be protected, along with private pensions. The minimum wage would be raised, and workers' rights to form unions would be protected. Expiring sections of the Patriot Act wouldn't be renewed, and Congress would fight media consolidation.

U.S. troops would be brought home from Iraq "as soon as possible,'' and the government would work to "restore international respect for American power and influence.''

All these points are part of the "Progressive Promise,'' an effort by the 59-member caucus of liberal House Democrats and one independent to reinvigorate the 15-year-old organization and make it more of a player in a capital city where conservative Republicans are solidly in charge.

The effort also includes hiring the caucus' first full-time staff member, veteran congressional aide Bill Goold, and reaching out to a variety of groups for support.

Behind the attempt to revitalize the organization is the feeling, also reflected in the election of the outspoken former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean as Democratic national chairman, that the party must provide a sharp alternative to President Bush and the Republican Congress.

"This is a reinvigoration. It shows our understanding of where the country is," said one of the caucus' two co-chairs, Rep. Lynn Woolsey, D- Petaluma. "Democrats are hungry to hear their voice.''

Her co-chair, Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said the "Progressive Promise, " which consists of three main themes and about 20 specific pledges, is a serious document. "It is a blueprint for a progressive governing majority, and a vision for what a progressive America can and will accomplish," she said.

"Never have I seen our caucus so united," Lee said. "It gives us the space to be as prominent as any other caucus."

The document was made public last week in a sweltering, jammed basement meeting room in the Rayburn House Office Building. A few hundred people picked at trays of cheese, crackers and melon, sipping wine and soft drinks as they listened to a long list of speakers lay out the caucus' issues and lambaste the Republicans.

The event was sponsored by a swarm of liberal groups eager to take on conservatives. They included MoveOn.org, the Nation magazine, the American Civil Liberties Union, Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, Americans for Democratic Action, the Human Rights Campaign, Peace Action and Hip Hop Caucus, and a host of others.

It was clear they are all hungry for action. "We like it when someone says no to George Bush,'' John Nichols, the Nation's Washington correspondent, told the throng. "Caucuses are beginnings. ... Caucuses can change the country, '' he said.

The Progressive Caucus began trying to change things when it was founded in 1990 by Rep. Bernie Sanders, the independent from Vermont. It says it's the largest single caucus among House Democrats, who now number 202 in the 109th Congress, and is one of dozens of caucuses boosting all kinds of causes and concerns, from wine and hunting to the Balkans and African Americans.

In addition to Woolsey and Lee, Bay Area members of the caucus include Democratic Reps. Sam Farr of Carmel, Tom Lantos of San Mateo, George Miller of Martinez and Pete Stark of Fremont.
The House Democratic leader, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco, has been a longtime caucus member. But as leader of all House Democrats, she has a policy of not belonging to any individual caucuses. Rather, she says she is concentrating on unifying Democrats of all stripes in their effort to take back the House, which Republicans won in 1994.

Other Bay Area Democrats affiliate with different caucuses. Rep. Mike Thompson D-St. Helena, and Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Walnut Creek, belong to the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 35 moderate to conservative Democrats.

The progressives are way behind their conservative rivals and even other liberal caucuses in terms of organization.

Goold works out of Woolsey's office and is paid from funds kicked in by caucus members' office budgets. He said that after just three weeks on the job, he's swamped. "I can't answer all the calls and e-mails I get each day,'' Goold said.

The group's Web site, which like other congressional caucus pages is reachable only through members' Web sites, hasn't been updated in about four years. "We need to address basic communication functions,'' Goold said.

In contrast, the big caucus of more than 100 conservative House Republicans, called the Republican Study Committee, maintains an elaborate Web site, has long had a paid executive director, and provides a center for members to issue press releases and statements on issues.

The group also reports about Congress' actions in supporting conservative values on such issues as abortion, same-sex marriage, gambling and abstinence.

The progressives also lag behind the all-Democratic Congressional Black Caucus, which has maintained a foundation that conducts research on issues of concern to members since 1976. Goold said creation of a similar foundation might be a long-term goal for the progressives.

Woolsey said the progressives will make a small number of issues their immediate priorities.
"We are working on progressive responses to the Patriot Act, the budget and trade deficits, media consolidation and the war. ... That's a plateful,'' she said.

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