US Rep. Michael Capuano did not mince words expressing his concerns about the deep ideological divide between Republican and Democratic elected officials at a March 7 forum at the Nate Smith House at 155 Lamartine St.
“I have been doing politics and government all of my adult life…We are likely to be at one of the most significant crossroads I have ever seen,” the outspoken Congressman said.
On the home front, Capuano urged the about-40 Democratic Party activists present to focus on unseating Republican Senator Scott Brown. “I encourage you to think about how we get that Senate seat back,” Capuano told the audience at the forum.
Capuano, who last year mounted an unsuccessful campaign in the Democratic Primary for the seat Brown now holds, told the Gazette he does not plan to announce for “a couple of months” whether he will try for the Senate seat in 2012.
From the start of the forum—hosted by the Wards 10, 11 and 19 Democratic Committees—Capuano told the audience the picture he planned to paint was not a pretty one. “You might be moving to Canada by the time I am done,” he told the crowd of about 40 Democratic Party activists.
Capuano said he believes Republicans—who regained control of the House last November thanks, in large part to the activism of the Tea Party movement—are pushing a familiar ideological effort to dismantle the federal social safety net. But, he said, they are employing a new strategy by couching that effort in terms of fiscal austerity.
Republicans have been pushing, unsuccessfully for the last 30 years to do away with Medicare, Social Security and other social welfare programs, he said.
“Now they are going through the back door, saying, ‘I love Social Security, but we just don’t have enough money,’” he said. “Meanwhile, we have the lowest taxes of any first world country in modern history.”
Capuano also said he opposes what he described as a Republican-led push across the country to limit public employee unions’ bargaining power. Discussing a successful Republican effort to pass legislation stripping public employee unions of their bargaining rights, he said that, when he was mayor of Somerville, “I never once contemplated sitting across the table from people and telling them they don’t have the right to negotiate.”
Even though unions represent a minority of workers in the US, union busting will lead to a “race to the bottom,” Capuano said. “Historically…what was this country like before people were allowed to collectively bargain? Unions raise all boats,” he said.
Speaking about Republican policies in general, he said, “We could wake up in a country that looks very different than it does today. I am very worried about what happens if we don’t unwind all this.”
And Capuano did not have much positive to say about his Democratic colleagues in Washington, including President Obama—whom he said he would vote for again, but with less enthusiasm than in 2008.
He said that he thinks the Republicans’ success in the 2010 mid-term elections was a result of Democrats’ failure to deal with “the hard truth” that taxes have to be raised or other federal budget items—including the military budget—cut.
“My side didn’t want to be the ones taking on the hard decisions.” he said.
“After [the 2010 mid-term] elections, the first vote was to extend [Bush-era] tax cuts,” Capuano said. “Too many Americans and their politicians want to pretend that Social Security, health care, cops and firefighters are free—that they just happen.”
He said President Obama’s support for tax cuts and proposals to cut things like community service block grants—which provide funding for services for the very poor—“raises questions with me. Where is the line? I am waiting, not just for the president, but for the average Democrat.”
And he has little hope, he said, that Republicans will be interested in real compromises in the future. “How do you work like adults with people who just want to slash taxes?” he said.
“I am a progressive Democrat. I believe in these programs. They need to be around for a long, long time,” Capuano said.