Rep. Jim Mcdermott at the open house
"The sum and substance of our political strategy can't be waiting for them to fuck up."
That was Representative Anthony Weiner (D-NY) on Wednesday morning, speaking before a "blogger open house" held by House Democrats on Capitol Hill. In attendance were roughly a dozen members of the Democratic caucus--almost all of whom were also members of the Progressive Caucus--as well as representatives from Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, Slate, Talking Points Memo, Think Progress and The Nation.
It isn't easy finding ways to be influential as a member of the minority party in the House. As such, much of the discussion led to reflections on what the minority party of the lower chamber can do to impact the national political landscape. Similar to a comment thread for a meta diary on the rec list, there wasn't much unity but there were plenty of ideas.
Weiner's talked about the need for House Democrats to inject a clearer, values-based vision of what the party stands for into the national political conversation. While Republicans presented a focused set of values based on smaller government, "on our side, there is this weird, squishy sense" that some government is good, but it's not entirely clear which parts or why. "You can't overstate the degree to which we rely on the President to set the conversation," Weiner admitted. However, "the President isn't a values guy--he wants to get the best deal for the American people." As such, House Democrats have "spent a lot of time waiting for Godot when it comes to the White House. We have to start setting the agenda ourselves."
Representative Keith Ellison, new co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, told me Progressives would greatly expand their support network for prospective Progressive caucus members vying for open and Republican-held seats in 2012. I took this as a very positive development, since it's something New Dems and Blue Dogs have been doing for a while.
Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) spoke of the "luxury of being in the minority," which she described as the ability to push new policy ideas and trap Republicans. As an example of this, she pointed to a new bill she introduced, the Fairness in Taxation Act. The bill adds a series of new tax brackets, starting with Americans making $1,000,000 a year and continuing upward through Americans making $1,000,000,000 a year. Schakowsky believes Republicans know voting against this will be unpopular, so she is focusing on gathering co-sponsors and forcing a vote--possibly through a motion to recommit--later this year.
Representative Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) spoke very highly of the labor-fueled protest movement. He was not alone in this regard. There was a general excitement among the members about the protests, as well as affirmation that real change had to come from the outside. "Big movements don't start in Congress, in Washington," said Anthony Weiner. Jan Schakowsky added that "our movement can be broader than the tea party."
Representatives José E. Serrano (D-NY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) cited committee work as a way that individual House Democrats can do more than just messaging. While acknowledging that their roles had changed a great deal from last year, Serrano and Blumenauer felt it was wrong that Republicans under Boehner had taken a purely message-based approach to being in the minority. Through their committees, where most legislation is shaped, Democrats can continue to be a part of the governing process.
Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, who was a member of the Progressive Caucus before she joined the Democratic Leadership, also made an appearance and took some questions. When I asked her if she felt that 54 Republicans dissenting on the latest continuing resolution (see Jed's post on Wednesday for more on that) provided House Democrats with an opportunity to start shaping the next continuing resolution, Pelosi quipped "I don't know Speaker Boehner's strategy" about keeping his caucus together. "I stand ready to help keep government open," she added, but only if "'there's a meeting of the minds." She indicated the type of cuts Republicans are perusing mostly just target those Americans most in need, thereby making a "meeting of the minds" impossible at this time.
This diverse set of approaches to being in the minority was proposed pretty much only by members of the Progressive Caucus. Given this, one can only image the diversity adopted by House Democrats as a whole. Still, there really is no shortage of ideas, and House Democrats are definitely doing more than just waiting around for the other side to fuck up.