Many progressives worked hard to reelect David Cicilline. I spent a lot of my summer and fall knocking on doors for him instead of helping out progressives in tight General Assembly races. When everyone was piling on Cicilline a year ago, we were defending him. We took a lot of flack, but we knew that we could not let progressives lose such a heavily Democratic seat. The sad thing is, that may be happening anyway—because Cicilline is making worrying signs of an exit from the Progressive Caucus.
The first warning signs came when Cicilline refused to sign the Grayson-Takano letter pledging not to cut Social Security, Medicare, or Medicaid. That sent a shiver of fear down the neck of Rhode Island progressives who worry this is setting up for a vote in favor of a grand bargain that sells out the middle class by cutting these essential programs in the middle of a jobs crisis.
Then he refused to cosponsor the Cancel the Sequester Act. This common-sense initiative of the Congressional Progressive Caucus cancels the sequester. Does not replace it with a slightly less devastating austerity package. Just cancels it. Ends this messy debate with no damage to the economy. It is about the most common-sense progressive initiative you can think of. But Cicilline still has not signed on.
But when I called Cicilline’s office (202-225-4911) last Thursday to ask why he is not standing with the rest of the Progressive Caucus on these basic economic issues, a staffer told me something even more disturbing: Cicilline’s budget plan is not the Progressive Caucus’s budget, the Back to Work Budget. It is the standard House Democratic budget.
Budget votes are a statement of core principles. They are usually the most important vote a legislator will make on economic issues. Not supporting the Progressive Caucus budget would be about as clear a sign as you could make that Cicilline is planning on leaving the Progressive Caucus.
The Back to Work Budget is not particularly progressive. It completely capitulates on the terms of the debate with a fiscally irresponsible focus on deficit reduction instead of jobs or debt in the real economy. Unlike the Ryan budget, which is a conservative wish list, the Back to Work Budget is a compromise package that leaves out most progressive goals. It contains only very limited stimulus, no housing plan, no plan to stop climate change, no Medicare for All, and no private sector debt relief. Instead, it is a compromise designed to attract conservative Democrats. But it is still the only budget actually focused on economic growth. It should be an easy, non-controversial vote.
The Back to Work Budget is coming up for a vote tomorrow. I sincerely hope that staffer was mistaken. Rhode Island will be watching.