Rep. Rosa DeLauro, Congress member from Connecticut, is a formidable force for change. She is not going to be stopped by the indifference, the ignorance or the disdain of those politicians who do not care about our country’s vulnerable populations. She is a freight train loaded with steely facts, a fireball of compassion for those whose lives need a helping hand. She has walked the walk and is still standing.
Her policy memoir, The Least Among Us, is not a vanity piece. The autobiography is sparse and included only to detail the crucible of experience that left DeLauro with no choice but to fight for those with little voice in our political institutions. She was the daughter of Italian immigrants who themselves were committed to social justice. There was never a time in her political career when she wasn’t watching, learning and ultimately leading a fight: making sure children do not go hungry, advocating for compassionate leave for workers, and working for health care for the sick, fair wages, gender equality and trade agreements that actually strengthen our economy.
Her inside-baseball legislative stories are epic, alternately thrilling and chilling. DeLauro was new to Congress in 1994 when Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich tried to rip up the decades-old bipartisan social contract that helped lift Americans out of the Great Depression. Gingrich’s infamous “Contract With America”—renamed the “Contract on America” by opponents—took direct aim at virtually every program DeLauro believes is fundamentally American: sharing the public largesse in ways that include economic, racial, age and gender differences and strengthen us all. Her conservative detractors in Congress, with their “painfully privileged mindsets and zero compassion,” define 2017 in ways that echo 1994. Indeed, many of the old players, from Gingrich to Grover Norquist to Rupert Murdoch, are pulling the strings of the current generation of political puppets. DeLauro has pushed for progress for more than 20 years, and she gives us a front-row seat to the contempt some conservatives have not just for the principle of helping the less fortunate, but for the unfortunate themselves.
This piece appears in the Summer 2017 issue of Ms.
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DeLauro is fierce, but she is also strategic. Winning in Congress often means not giving up. The true advocate brings her A-game every time, no matter how disheartening the outcome. And sometimes you win: DeLauro led the food fight that resulted in expansion of the food stamp program now known as SNAP, she tirelessly fought for the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and she helped muscle the troops to pass the Affordable Care Act. With these and other policies DeLauro was a mover and shaker, relentless in forcing fellow legislators to hear the people’s stories and feel their pain.
Of great concern for DeLauro is not her misses in the political circus that we call Congress but its current ringmaster, Paul Ryan. In a series of data-filled indictments, DeLauro chronicles not only his specific assaults on the safety net, including SNAP, child care tax credits and Medicaid, but also his underlying philosophy. DeLauro says that the conservatives in power believe that the poor choose poverty—that they want handouts. “Blinding himself to the facts allows [Ryan] to assert that the best way to respond to a hungry child is to deny her parents aid that would allow them to buy a meal,” DeLauro writes.
In her last pages, DeLauro steps away from the abyss, outlining 10 hopeful policies to ensure progress going forward. Her solutions are a mirror of her rich experience: practical, compassionate and visionary. With the recent cruel attempts to slash programs to aid the poor, disabled and elderly, we should all embrace Rosa DeLauro’s blueprint. And we should give her a big hug, too.