There is strong concern that the lame-duck Congress will be used to pass the Catfood Commission’s recommendations to slash America’s social safety net with cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits. The idea of a Democratic President and a Democratic Congress allowing cuts to our great social programs that will result in millions of seniors falling into poverty is a horrifying thought. Fortunately, progressives in the House have the power to stop this if they are willing to play hardball politics.
The Catfood Commission, conveniently, won’t release its recommendations until early December. That’s too late to let voters incorporate it into their judgment before the November election but not too late for a lame-duck Congress to pass it. Clearly the Catfood Commission members hold extreme contempt for the idea of letting us, the unwashed masses of the country, actually get to shape government policy using this thing called democracy.
If the Catfood Commission suggests a bill slashing Social Security benefits and it comes to a vote in the House, it is likely to pass with the votes of Republicans and conservative Blue Dog Democrats. Even if all the progressive-leaning Democrats oppose it on a straight vote, it will probably pass. Progressives likely won’t have the votes to defeat it on the floor.
But they should have the votes to prevent it from ever reaching the floor if they are willing to play hardball. Here’s how:
The Catfood Commission’s cuts to Social Security can never become law if they don’t get a vote on the floor. As Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi is fully capable of preventing any bill she doesn’t want to from coming to the floor during the lame-duck Congress. Liberal Democrats can apply pressure by promising to remove Pelosi (and all other House Democratic leaders) from any leadership position in the House, forever, if she allows a bill cutting Social Security to reach the floor.
Members of the Progressive, Populist, African-American and Hispanic caucuses should easily make up the majority of the Democratic caucus in the 112th Congress, about a quarter of all House members. Their percentage of the overall Democratic Caucus should only increase after November, even as the caucus as a whole loses members. This means if they act together, they will have the power to elect or defeat any individual for a caucus leadership position. The threat should carry even more weight on this issue, because the very next vote after any action in the lame-duck session will be votes on caucus business at the start of the next Congress.
I highly doubt Pelosi is so personally committed to giving the Catfood Commission recommendations a vote on the floor that she would be willing to give up her leadership role. I fully acknowledge this would be very hardball tactics. I’m suggesting the possibility because the goal is to protect America’s most important, most popular and most progressive government program from regressive and needless cuts.
If Democrats in the House truly oppose cutting Social Security, they have the tools at their disposal to stop that from happening during the lame-duck Congress. It would require some brutal politics but they do have real leverage if they are willing to use it. It is important to know this well ahead of time, so the public will know that the excuse of “We couldn’t stop it, we voted against it, but there were too many Republicans and Blue Dogs voting for it,” is not sufficient. Members of Congress have powers have beyond just voting yes or no on the floor.