Lynn Woolsey Should Resign as Head of the Progressive Caucus

Lynn Woolsey has become a major impediment to effective action on the issues she cares about the most. The numerous House progressive concessions over health care reform can be more or less traced to her.
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Lynn Woolsey says she's a definite "yes" vote on the Senate health care bill. Even if it lacks a public option. Despite the fact that it's the biggest blow to a woman's right to choose in a generation, and may come at the price of a stand-alone vote that allows Blue Dogs and ConservaDems to join with Republicans and roll reproductive rights back even further in order to get Bart Stupak's support.

Any ability for progressives to negotiate, to achieve meaningful concessions, to exert their influence and make the bill better just disappeared.

It's time for Lynn Woolsey to resign as the head of the Progressive Caucus.

Woolsey shares the job of Co-Chair with Raul Grijalva. Throughout the health care battle, Grijalva has shown steadfast leadership even when things got tough. Starting in the early summer of of 2009, he began working with Jerrold Nadler behind the scenes to whip members of Congress to vote against any bill that did not have a public option.

FDL joined that fight on June 23, but without Grijalva's leadership and his consistent willingness to stand on principle -- even when he was being pilloried as a "monster" for doing so -- we'd all be signing checks to Wellpoint right now while PhRMA was popping champagne corks.

Woolsey was certainly part of the fight for a public option, co-authoring a letter on June 5 with Grijalva outlining the health care principles of the Progressive Caucus. And here's a video from June where Woolsey says she will insist on the inclusion of a public option:


"Oh I will vote against anything that does not include ... and it's got to be real. I mean, you can call it anything you want ... I believe there are enough of us, among the 120 in the tri-caucus and the progressive caucus, that can stop any votes.... Any health care reform that does not include a strong, robust public option for all Americans will not be health care reform."

Woolsey then commenced a petty battle for control of the progressive caucus (and the public option campaign). She held a press conference on June 24, claiming to represent 120 members of the Quad Caucus who would vote against any bill that

Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California, co-chairwoman of the Progressive Caucus, said the groups' statement was unusual. Typically, leaders of the caucuses do not publicly challenge their party leadership, preferring to work behind the scenes to win concessions in legislation, she said.

"What we're telling you this time: it's different," she said. "Not that we're going to vote with Republicans. But if reform legislation comes to the floor and doesn't include a real and robust public option, we will fight it with everything we have."

Her statements today reflect absolutely no consciousness that she ever said anything like this, or was in any way in a leadership position on the issue. But that has been the way Woolsey has operated throughout the health care campaign.

When we began our whip count in late June it quickly became evident that contrary to Woolsey's assertions, not all 120 members of the Quad Caucus agreed on the need for a public option. When we asked that individual members of Congress to go on record and state their personal beliefs, Woolsey got angry that our efforts to get people on the record might demystify a brilliant campaign that allowed members to hide anonymously underneath an umbrella that gave them "strength in numbers."

On July 9, after the Blue Dogs said they had the votes to kill the health care bill, Woolsey announced -- apparently unaware of the irony -- that she now had 60 votes to vote against a bill without a public option. Where did the other 60 votes suddenly go? Well, she didn't say. I wrote "If Lynn Woolsey's got 60 votes, I've got leprechauns in my laundry room" and demanded that she name names. Because if there's one thing we learned from the supplemental battle, it's that a member who won't even publicly commit to a position is certainly not going to go to the mat for it.

A week later, an "internal whip list" was leaked by Woolsey's office. It was now down to 50 names. What happened to the extra 10 names Woolsey said she had the week before? Well, they seemed to have magically disappeared too.

We began calling all 50 offices. We could not get one member of Congress to confirm that their name was validly on that list.

Woolsey's strategy, her theatrics, her leadership on health care devolved into a colossal joke. Nobody took her seriously. Nothing she said ever turned out to be true, and any thinking person would rightly conclude that any threat she made was idle. She was incapable of commanding the respect of the Progressive Caucus, and it became clear as time went on that her lack of leadership was an enormous problem when it comes to organizing progressives in the House who now had the opportunity to exert real power.

Members of the Progressive Caucus, however, realized that people were laughing and it was time to "put up or shut up." And so 60 members finally signed their names to the famous July 31 letter to Nancy Pelosi and Henry Waxman saying they would vote against any bill that didn't have a public option -- tied to Medicare reimbursement rates.

Now, fighting for Medicare reimbursement rates as a cost-control measure was important, but anyone with the ability to Google could figure out that there was long-term opposition among Democrats from rural districts sufficient to take the health care bill down over it. It's one thing to fight for something, it's quite another to draw a line in the sand you know you're fully prepared to step over. But Woolsey led many members of the caucus to demand its inclusion this in the letter, which was ultimately used undermine the public option fight down the line.

Predictably, they gave up the fight on Medicare rates the next day. It would re-emerge as an issue later in a watered down "Medicare Plus 5" version, but mostly as a face-saving measure I think. It never had a serious chance.

Nonetheless, online supporters were delighted that progressives were taking a stand. It wasn't much of a political risk, since the public option was something that 80% of the country wanted. But they showed their support by donating $430,000 to the members who were willing to commit to vote against any health care bill that didn't have a public option. Of those, 1734 people donated $5,613 to Lynn Woolsey.

Is she ready to give that money back if she goes back on her promise to vote "no" on any bill that doesn't have a public option? Because a poll determined that 90% of our readers think that she should.

Furthermore, 76% of our readers think that members of Congress who go back on that pledge should face primary challenges (the filing deadline for California is March 12). And a full 82.3% think that anyone who votes to restrict a woman's right to choose, as the Senate bill does, should face a primary challenge too.

Woolsey has been inconsistent and muddled throughout the health care fight, and her leadership non-existent. And now she's ready to capitulate to the Senate bill. Really?
when the Senate bill passed:

I was very relieved on Saturday night when the Senate had the 60 votes. Now, the games begin. If the House position is to take what the Senate did and capitulate to it, then they have the wrong idea about what the House of Representatives is going to do.

While Woolsey has been willing to take a progressive stand on issues over the years, she risks nothing for doing so. She's in a safe Democratic seat, from a district with a D+23 PVI. It's full of progressive, pro-choice Democrats who have donated to her campaign since she first took office in 1993, and she's be in more political trouble if she didn't take those positions.

I understand that the health care bill will probably fail because of its own inertia, the search right now is for a scapegoat to blame it on and no Democrat but Bart Stupak really wants to have that honor. But there are certain principles that someone who calls themselves a progressive leader should not be cavalier about, and a woman's right to choose is one of them. As Scarecrow wrote here in December, the Nelson language in the Senate bill was written to tee up a Supreme Court challenge to Roe v. Wade.

That is unacceptable.

Lynn Woolsey's inability to effectively lead the Progressive Caucus represents a tremendous problem in the House. She inevitably drags any organizing attempt into chaos and petty bickering, and her idea of "leadership" is issuing a symphony of idle threats she never follows through on that reduces caucus to a laughing stock and renders them completely ineffectual.

Woolsey has become a major impediment to effective action on the issues she cares about the most. The failure of progressives in the House to achieve meaningful concessions on single payer, or the public option, or prescription drug price negotiation, or any other progressive principle is largely due to her ineffectiveness. She should step down as the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus.

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