In outgoing Congress, DeLauro burnished liberal credentials

This is the third in a series of stories about the roles each member of the Connecticut congressional delegation played in the 113th Congress.

Washington – Rep. Rosa DeLauro’s liberal activism may not have helped her win GOP support of her legislative efforts in the outgoing Congress, but it helped galvanize the left wing of her party.

Congressional report card logoAn ally of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, DeLauro, D-3rd District, DeLauro led the way in attacking Republicans for their stances on abortion, birth control and equal pay for women; protecting programs for the poor; and fighting for stricter regulations on drug manufacturing and food safety in the last session of Congress.

DeLauro’s clout was based on her relationship with Pelosi and her position as co-chair of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, which, among other things, determines committee assignments for House Democrats. DeLauro’s profile also was raised by the fact that liberals became a larger proportion of her party’s caucus after many Democratic moderates lost their seats in the GOP takeover of the House in 2010.

DeLauro also has positions of influence with her seat on a House Appropriations Committee panel that funds the U.S. Department of Agriculture and her position as the top Democrat on another appropriations panel that funds the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education. She’s also the longest-serving member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation, having been first elected to the House in 1990.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for open government, DeLauro introduced 41 bills in the 113th Congress, more than twice as many as any other member of the Connecticut congressional delegation. But her legislative victories were few.

They included approval in a defense appropriations bill of an amendment prohibiting the Pentagon from using any new funding to purchase Russian-made helicopters for the Afghan armed forces. Sikorsky, based in DeLauro’s district, wanted that contract.

The Pentagon did an end run around the amendment, however, by using money appropriated in previous years to continue to purchase the Russian helicopters.

DeLauro redoubled her campaign after Russia invaded Crimea.

“We should not be filling the coffers of Russian arms dealers in any way, shape, or form,” she said. ”Our domestic manufacturers, like Sikorsky and Spectrum Associates, should get the chance to compete for this important work.”

But the Pentagon may have acquired all the Russian helicopters it intended to buy.

Banning chicken processed in China

DeLauro also had a win on an amendment to a budget bill that prohibits serving chicken processed in China in school lunches.

“Banning Chinese chicken from school meals is a common-sense step to protect our kids,” DeLauro said.

Another DeLauro amendment, which bars the federal government from contracting with companies that reincorporate in Bermuda or the Cayman Islands to avoid U.S. taxes, was also approved in the last Congress.

And a dozen of the 350 bills DeLauro co-sponsored made it into law, including legislation that amended the Controlled Substances Act to allow veterinarians to  dispense controlled substances outside of their registered locations while caring for animals, and a resolution to give the Congressional Gold Medal to former Israeli President Shimon Peres.

DeLauro’s inability to win approval for most of her liberal agenda in the GOP-controlled Congress did not mean she was not effective, said Lucy Nolan, executive director of End Hunger Connecticut!

Nolan said DeLauro’s strength is “being in the background” and in her organizing skills and her uncompromising determination.

“She’s tireless in getting people together and writing letters and getting the attention of the president,” she said.

To Nolan a highlight for DeLauro in this session of Congress was her showdown with Republicans during negotiations over a farm bill that would shrink food stamp benefits for millions of people in 17 states, including Connecticut.

A “heat and eat” provision allows families who have high shelter costs and who receive benefits from the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to receive higher food stamp benefits. To help many families, Connecticut gave a minimum of  $1 in LIHEAP benefits so recipients could receive more food stamp benefits. The GOP wanted to make the threshold at least $20, and prevailed.

That meant 50,000 households in the state were at risk of losing extended foods stamp benefits, worth an average of about $90 a month.

“There were a lot of anti-hunger advocates who said, ‘If we have to cut food stamps, let it be this’,’” Nolan said. “But Rosa would not go along with that.”

After the uproar DeLauro led over the cuts, several governors, including Connecticut’s Dannel P. Malloy, decided to raise their LIHEAP payments to a minimum of $20 so nobody in their states would lose the higher food stamp benefits.

Clash over pregnant paraplegic

To Gary Rose, political science professor at Sacred Heart University, DeLauro’s high point came in December of 2013 when she bucked Pelosi by refusing to vote for a $1.04 trillion budget deal that averted a government shutdown and eliminated across-the-board federal spending cuts known as the sequester.

The bill failed to fund federal long-term unemployment benefits for millions of people who’ve been out of work for more than 26 weeks, which DeLauro said was “most troubling…during the Christmas season.”

“That stood out as a very courageous decision,” Rose said of DeLauro’s opposition to the budget bill.

Unfortunately, the 113th Congress ended on a sour note for DeLauro because of her decision to reject a request from Rep. Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill, to cast an absentee ballot in Democratic leadership elections last month. Duckworth, a paraplegic Iraq War veteran, was bedridden because of an advanced pregnancy, and she sought a waiver from a rule that requires the leadership votes to be cast in person.

Rose said the move, which provoked public outrage and ridicule by comedian Jon Stewart “was the low point of her career.”

“That to me was such blatant political partisanship,” Rose said.

Connecticut U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, talks to the press flanked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Connecticut U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, left, flanked by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of California.

Ross Baker, professor of political science at Rutgers University, was kinder, but agreed the decision to deny Duckworth a vote, which DeLauro said would set a bad precedent, was motivated by a wish to please the top House Democratic leader.

“Pelosi had a great deal at stake in this vote,” Baker said.

Pelosi urged members of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee to make Rep. Anna Eshoo, D- Calif., the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee over Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.

Pelosi knew Duckworth would cast a ballot for Pallone.

“In effect, the vote on the ranking position was a vote of confidence in Pelosi’s leadership and, as a member of the leadership team, DeLauro had little choice but to reduce the chance that Pallone’s challenge could succeed,” Baker said. “The vote was bound to be close, so anyone known to oppose Eshoo, such as Duckworth, needed to be neutralized.”

Yet in the end, Pallone won the committee vote and the position as ranking Democrat on the powerful committee.

DeLauro was reappointed by Pelosi as co-chairman of the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee in the new Congress that convenes in January.

She’s expected to help liberals flex their muscle as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., continues her campaign to rally the left-wing of her party in the 114th Congress.

And in a high-profile standoff with President Obama, DeLauro will be at the forefront of opposition to a new Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement opposed by unions that the United States is negotiating with 11 Asian nations.

She said her No. 1 priority will be to help constituents keep jobs with wages they can live on.

“Fighting NAFTA-like trade deals, ensuring workplaces reflect the realities of 21st century families, supporting affordable higher education, investing in infrastructure, and leveling the playing field in our tax code all play key roles in this,” DeLauro said. “In the coming Congress I will continue the work voters send me to Washington to do and push for policies that ensure everyone who works hard and plays by the rules has a chance to succeed.”

DeLauro stats in the 113th Congress
Party loyalty ranking…97 percent
Bills introduced…41
Bills approved…0
Bills co-sponsored…350
Co-sponsored bills approved…12
Missed votes…5 percent
Campaign funds raised…$1.2 million*
*As of Nov. 24, 2014
Sources: Sunlight Foundation, Govtrack.us, Federal Elections Commission

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