HOW MANY SOCIALISTS ARE THERE IN CONGRESS?

April 15, 2009

When U.S. Rep. Spencer Bachus, R-Al., told a breakfast gathering in Birmingham, Alabama that in his opinion there are 17 socialists actively serving in the Congress, the top Republican on the Financial Services Committee opened a Pandora’s Box. Later, when pressed for specifics, Bachus fingered only Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist, who appears as an independent on the ballot.

Sanders caucuses with the Democratic Party and is counted as a Democrat for the purposes of committee assignments. He is one of two independent Senators in the 111th Congress, along with Joe Lieberman. But whatever his official logo, Sen. Sanders doesn’t like to be willy-nilly branded as a “socialist,” according to a report in Politico. “I think at the very least he has to tell people what his definition of socialism is -- and I think, yeah, he should tell us who he was referring to, who’s on the list,” Sanders charged.

Sanders asked whether Spencer released his list yet.  Everybody’s waiting with bated breath,” Sanders added.

Grover Norquist, who heads up Americans for Tax Reform, thinks Bachus’ heart is in the right place but decries that the lawmaker has gotten into the business of keeping lists.  Norquist said that nobody should "get into a labeling thing with the other side. We shouldn’t call them socialists -- we should call them stupid because they are spending all this money we don’t have.”

Meanwhile, everyone has been left to ponder over just what calculus Bachus used to come up with the number 17. For sure, Bachus is not telling – Politico reports that the Bachus camp has not responded to numerous requests to name the other 16 lawmakers.

As Politico reports, Hill staffers and advocates on both sides bet Bachus was probably referring to some members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, a left-leaning collection of 77 House members founded by Sanders in the early 1990s. The group fosters minimizing military aid, universal health care and higher taxes on the wealthy.

Meanwhile, the Nation has been culling statistics from polls to come up with an answer. That publication suggested this week that a significant socialist presence in the House would indeed reflect the sentiments of the American people.

Citing a new survey by Rasmussen Reports, 20 percent of Americans believe that socialism is a superior system to capitalism. Another 27 percent are not sure whether socialism or capitalism is preferable. According to Rasmussen, younger Americans are even more inclined toward socialism, with 33 percent of adults under the age of thirty identifying with the philosophy and 30 percent revealing that they are undecided between socialism and capitalism.

If Rasmussen is right on the money, and if the House’s membership is truly a mirror of the ideological sentiments of the American people, the chamber would not have 17, nor even 71 or 77 socialists.  The Nation concluded that there would be at least 90 socialists serving in the House, and probably a good many more.

Another less scientific reaction to the Bachus charge reported by Politico came from Doug Thornell, spokesman for Rep. Chris Van Hollen, chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.  Thornell said that House Republicans’ solution to the current economic crisis is to launch head-scratching, ’50s-style accusations against unidentified members of Congress. Thornell went on to add, “Next thing you know they’ll be going after beatniks and calling for the auto industry to bring back the Edsel.”

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