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The Progressive Caucus and Obama

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) met with President Obama for one hour in the East Room of the White House yesterday.

CPC Co-Chair, Congressman Raúl Grijalva, said that 50 of the 77 Caucus members attended, and they honed in on two major issues: their commitment to only supporting a healthcare reform bill that includes a public plan option that is "more than a gesture"; and the $83 billion war supplemental.

"It was a serious meeting," Rep. Grijalva said. "It moved quickly, there was a lot of candor from both sides."

Presenting the Caucus' case for healthcare reform were Representatives Yvette Clark, Tammy Baldwin, Jan Schakowsky, and Jim McDermott. Congressman Dennis Kucinich spoke with the President about a single-payer system.

Rep. Grijalva said members made it clear that the Caucus' support for any healthcare bill hinges on a public plan option that is "robust... [and] competitive with the private sector." President Obama called himself "an ally", but said it was up to Congress to deliver him the kind of bill to which the Caucus is committed.

With regard to the $83 billion war supplemental, Rep. Grijalva said the Caucus expressed its concern that "we're making the same mistake -- everything is going into militarization, not institutional reform, human and capital development, healthcare... those kinds of things." They pointed out to the President that the counterinsurgency strategy calls for 80 percent of the resources to be devoted to non-military/political solutions, and 20 percent to the military. But the supplemental devotes $76 billion for the military and approximately $7 billion for diplomatic efforts and foreign aid.

Obama said that the supplemental reflects the mess he inherited from his predecessor and the consequent short-term security needs. He said the Caucus should look at the FY2010 budget to see the kinds of investments that he supports.

Beyond the supplemental, the Caucus cited four other priorities with regard to Afghanistan and Iraq: no permanent bases; a timetable for exit; the aforementioned 80-20 allocation of resources; and the need to cease using drones due to civilian casualties.

Rep. Grijalva reported that President Obama said "he's not going to be caught in a quagmire. We'll be revisiting this decision every week, every month...."

Taking the lead in discussing security issues were Representatives John Tierney, Barbara Lee, Keith Ellison, and Mike Honda.

Grijalva said this wasn't a meeting where they "pinned down" the President and that "he handles tough questions very well." There was mutual respect and the meeting "helped solidify the relationship between the CPC and the White House."

The meeting was a good one for conveying the Caucus' key concerns on critical issues which will loom large in the next 100 days and beyond. It also represented an important and hopeful moment for the CPC itself. Rep. Grijalva explained, "It was good for the Caucus to be unified. There was no questioning the opinions the Caucus members gave to the President. With 50 people -- very few of us were able to speak -- and it demonstrates that members were there to support the Caucus and support each other. That's significant. Today everybody hung together and stuck to these two issues. I think that kind of discipline is very important."

Rep. Grijalva is right. At a time when the significantly smaller Blue Dog Caucusthreatens to impede passage of a much needed budget and real healthcare reform, the CPC's work as a more unified team -- allied with the work of millions of progressives across the country -- could translate to real reform at the federal level.

In the past, Caucus members have had a hard time doing their politics together. This afternoon's meeting with President Obama may signal a new unity that bodes well for the tough fights ahead.

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