Metro, University News

Cicilline ’83 blasts Tea Party, stresses youth involvement

Senior Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2012

After almost two years in Congress, Rep. David Cicilline ’83, D-R.I., returned to his alma mater last night to address the Brown Democrats – an organization he co-founded almost 30 years ago with John F. Kennedy Jr. ’83. He stressed the importance of unifying the Democratic Party as the 2012 congressional elections present the opportunity to gain the 24 seats needed in the House of Representatives for progress on a liberal agenda.

Cicilline began his speech by thanking students “for being Democrats” during a time when the Party “needs the passion and energy of young people.”

The growing strength of the Tea Party movement has driven Democrats and Republicans in Congress further apart ideologically, he said. “The Republican Party was hijacked by the Tea Party.” 

After Republicans gained a majority in the House of Representatives in the 2010 congressional elections – widely due to the new, overwhelming support of the Tea Party among traditional Republicans – Democrats have struggled to be heard in the legislature, he said.

“Everything we care about as Democrats – infrastructure, women’s rights, equality – all of those issues are under attack in this Republican Congress,” he added.

Cicilline emphasized that ideological differences between the two parties have prevented Congress from achieving the legislative change that most of America wants. “There are a lot of people who are disappointed,” he said.

“For us to have a prosperous and vibrant economy, you need to have a middle class that can buy the goods and services we produce,” he said. “(The Republicans) have been advancing policies that undermine the middle class of this country.”

During the question and answer session that followed his speech, students asked about Cicilline’s time in Washington. He said he struggles with his status as a freshman congressman in the minority party, where he has little voice in contributing to the legislative agenda.

Regardless of his position, “it’s really important to be staking out priorities and pushing hard on the things you believe in.” He wants his fellow congressmen to know and understand his positions, even if he is not able to further his policy goals at the moment, he added.

When asked about health care and environmental legislation, Cicilline said ultimately much of the Republican Party is not interested in addressing issues the Democrats find crucial.

“There are folks who fundamentally don’t believe in government. They don’t believe in the role of government in protecting food safety, the environment and children’s health,” he said. “A lot of them don’t even believe in science.”

Cicilline also addressed students’ concerns about the ongoing negotiations between the University and Providence. The city is asking the University to increase its monetary contributions in lieu of taxes in an attempt to close the city’s large budget deficit, which some have attributed to Cicilline’s reckless financial decisions as mayor in the eight years prior to Taveras’ term. Cicilline said this issue is not specific to Providence but exists across the country.

Taveras’ decision to address the issue was prudent in light of the massive amount of property tax-exempt institutions have purchased over the year, he added. 

Cicilline said he attempted to solve the issue through a proposal that would give the city a portion of the state’s income tax revenue to compensate for revenue not earned from property taxes. He called it a “brilliant idea” and said he hopes “there might be some effort to do that again.”

At the end of the night, Cicilline returned to his overarching message that the upcoming elections in November are crucial and the Tea Party must be defeated.

“This is the most important election of our lifetime,” Cicilline said. “There has never been a time in our lifetimes when we have a new political movement on the ballot, but we do this time – the Tea Party.”

The next two years in Congress will be significant, he added. Cicilline said he wants to see the “great bills” – which will not see a vote while Republicans are setting the agenda – out on the floor and passed into law.

“We, as Democrats, need to keep the Senate, take over the House and reelect our president,” Cicilline said to students before urging them to get involved in political campaigns to ensure the party achieves these goals.