I recently published the blog post Buck Up Progressives--We WON! Many readers appreciated the silver lining to an otherwise demoralizing mid-term election outcome. Others thought the resilience of Congressional Progressive Caucus lawmakers meaningless at best, just the same or worse than corporate-owned, pro-wealthy Republicans at worst.
So, does it matter that there are close to 80 self-proclaimed House progressives who maintained their seats in the wake of an unprecedented flood of secret money, thanks to the Supreme Court's "Citizen's United" ruling?
It certainly does.
An overwhelming majority of Congressional Progressive Caucus incumbents won after governing with integrity in most instances. They weren't always successful. They failed in their bid for Single Payer, then in their stand for a "Robust Public Option" in the health reform bill. They couldn't defund the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The lack of movement on truly progressive steps to reverse climate change, to get a good jobs bill out of Congress, scrap Don't Ask, Don't Tell, and securing full enfranchisement for citizens living in the District of Columbia were deeply disappointing.
Yet, thanks in large part to progressive grassroots movements, advocates and experts, Congressional Progressive Caucus lawmakers successfully increased food stamp benefits for our growing numbers of hungry families. They helped keep 3.3 million people out of poverty by extending Unemployment Insurance to our alarming number of unemployed workers. They, at least temporarily, helped create 250,000 state jobs for low-income TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families) recipients in the Great Recession's wake.
They played a crucial role in getting Congress to rein in predatory lenders, regulate Wall Street, pass credit card consumer protection, protect worker rights, increase the minimum wage, subsidize health insurance for Americans who lost their jobs, boost the Earned Income Tax Credit to lift vulnerable families out of poverty, and more.
In other words, they did more than any other congressional block to introduce and pass progressive legislation that made significant differences in the lives of poor people and others who are struggling in this country. They have laid the groundwork for more that can be done in the lame duck session, including passing a meaningful jobs bill, extending much-needed Unemployment Insurance, passing a good child nutrition bill and extending the TANF Emergency Contingency Fund to keep jobs for low-income workers.
Because progressive Democrats prevailed in the midterm elections as the Blue Dog delegation's ranks were halved, we will likely have Nancy Pelosi as Minority Leader instead of conservative Steny Hoyer. Because we have so many progressives in Congress, we'll have champions for our causes and venues for our ideas.
There's no question that our possibilities of advancing any more of a progressive agenda in Congress are vastly diminished if not eliminated by key progressive losses, and that future congressional elections are jeopardized by sweeping GOP victories in many state legislatures. Indeed, we'll probably see some of the successes we've had rolled back. But keeping the Congressional Progressive Caucus intact marks a significant win for progressives and for poor people, immigrants, people of color, young people, senior citizens, single mothers, and the unemployed. It's the least we need.
We would be much worse off without them.