Progressives to unveil 'core principles'

A group of House Democrats will unveil a set of goals dubbed “The Progressive Promise” next week in an effort to put liberal priorities higher on the Democratic agenda and offer an alternative to conservatives’ vision of an “ownership society.”

The announcement by the 57-member Congressional Progressive Caucus will join a cacophony of voices in the Democratic Party that have been pitching new ideas and approaches in the wake of losses at the polls in November.

It will also direct attention to the liberal members of the House, some of whom have felt sidelined as more centrist Democrats have chosen to side with Republican leadership on several issues.

“It’s very important to recognize that we’re part of the Democratic caucus. We intend for our agenda to become … more prominent overall in the Democratic caucus,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), who jointly chairs the Progressive Caucus with Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.).

Lee also noted that at the same time she felt House Democrats were “more united than ever.”

Tensions between centrist and liberal factions among House Democrats came to a head in April during a whip meeting in which progressives voiced their displeasure that centrists had worked with Republicans on the bankruptcy reform bill, a measure progressives have vehemently opposed. The bill passed with the support of 73 House Democrats.

The Progressive Caucus had been considering raising its profile long before the bankruptcy bill came up, but that disagreement — especially the fact that centrists had urged House leadership to bring the bill to a vote without telling the rest of the party — “lit the fuse,” a House Democratic aide said.

In June, the Progressive Caucus hired its first full-time staffer, who set about querying the caucus on which issues would form part of the Progressive Promise.

The group is expected to focus broadly on fostering economic justice, protecting and preserving civil liberties and promoting global security, Woolsey said. Its agenda may include calls for universal healthcare, a balanced-budget amendment and the withdrawal of troops from Iraq.

Some of the more active members of the Progressive Caucus include the immediate past chairman, Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), and Reps. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.), Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Mike Capuano (D-Mass.).

The New Democrat Coalition, a group of 42 centrists, has been constructing its own set of shared views, to emphasize initiatives in economic growth, national security and personal responsibility. The group held a brainstorming session two weeks ago to begin formulating ideas for its centrist agenda. That process is expected to take at least three months.

Progressives are moving much more quickly to formulate their agenda and plan to have it ready for an event next Tuesday. They are expected to be joined at the event by representatives of various liberal organizations, including, potentially, Progressive Democrats of America, the Institute for Policy Studies, Peace Action, National Priorities Project, Jobs with Justice and The Nation magazine.