In an exclusive interview, Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), co-chair of the Progressive House Caucus, talks with New American Media Political Analyst and Huffington Post Contributor Earl Ofari Hutchinson about the group's strategy in the new, Republican-controlled House. The interview was conducted by New America Media.
THR: Many are not familiar with the Progressive House Caucus. How big is it?
LW: We had 83 members before the election. It is bicameral, with House and Senate members. It's by far the largest caucus in Congress. We lost four members this election. But we also gained a couple of new members. We will not have less than 80 members in the next Congress. The Blue Dog Democrats lost almost two-thirds of their members.
What are the major issues that the Caucus will press Congress and the Obama Administration on?
LW: It is clear that we represent the heart and soul of the Democratic Party. So, the first item is jobs. We have to have a robust jobs bill. One that we should have had when President Obama first took office and his popularity was at its height. He had a big majority in the House and Senate. We would have doubled the amount of money allocated for the jobs bill that came out of the House, which the Senate cut to shreds. The other priority is combating the notion that the timetable for ending the Afghanistan War is 2014. The war is killing our budget, killing our people, and killing our relations with our allies.
What does it take to make that happen?
LW: None of this is going to happen until we get money out of politics, get a bigger control of the media, and that means diversifying ownership beyond the three corporations.
The headline article in the Washington Post, Nov. 11, was "Liberals plan to push Obama not to compromise with GOP." Will the Progressive Caucus take the lead in pushing the president not to "compromise" with the GOP?
LW: We were the most productive House in recent legislative history in getting key pieces of legislation passed. Unfortunately, it was not enough. We were in such a deep economic hemorrhaging. We stopped that. But to do more we have to be even bolder in our actions. We're going to push the White House to come forth with bold steps. It's not too late now. But it will be in two years. So we're hoping that he recognizes that.
White House advisor David Axelrod was quoted to the effect that Obama would compromise on the "big issues." Did that set off alarm bells with you and the Caucus members?
LW: I and Caucus co-chair Raul M. Grijalva sent the President a letter Friday, Nov. 12, that we totally support rolling back the Bush tax breaks for the wealthy. And no cuts in other programs such as food stamps that benefit the poor and needy.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs blasted liberals and progressives as the "professional Left" for continuing to criticize the president despite what he's tried to accomplish.
LW: I totally disagreed with him. I've won office with 70 percent of the vote, and there is a large base of voters that are progressive. This is America, and they do have the right to express themselves. And criticism or not of us, we're not going to stop our criticism on policy issues we disagree with. In fact, in line with the Congressional Black Caucus, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and the House Pacific Asian Caucus, we will represent a good majority of the Democrats who remain in the House.
So no compromise on the core issues.
LW: Any idea that we're going to reach across the aisle and surrender our Democratic ideals on jobs, health care, education, and fighting for working people and not the wealthy is not going to happen. We're not going to compromise our votes to support programs just to appear that we're compromising. We're not going to start from the right of center and go further to the right. That's not what the nation needs.
There were reports that during the health care debate the White House shunned the Progressive Caucus. How accurate is that?
LW: No we were not shunned. I still hear the president saying, "Lynn what's our agenda on health care and what's to be done to secure passage." We took groups of representatives to the White House more than once for meetings. We always had an open-door relationship to work with the president and the House leadership. We intend to continue to work with the president. He will have a hard time getting anything done if he doesn't have us with him. And he knows that.
But we're not going to compromise with the right on some lukewarm programs that should have been much bolder. The public option in the health care fight was a good example of that. We still feel it was given away before the health care debate really began. So we're not going to roll over. Most of our members won reelection, and in some ways we'll have an even bigger voice in the next Congress.
Nancy Pelosi wants to stay in the House Leadership. Do you support her?
LW: I'm 100 percent behind her. None of the accomplishments in this past Congress would have happened without her leadership. They label her as some wild-eyed liberal, but that's just name calling. She's an effective leader. And the administration knows that. I'm confident that she will be our Minority House leader.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk shows on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson