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New Democrats Make a Push

Business-Friendly Group Sees an Opening for Its Expertise

When Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.) travels to Wall Street today to discuss overhauling financial regulations with industry titans, it will be something of a homecoming. She once held a seat on the New York Stock Exchange; in fact, Tauscher cut her teeth there early in her career as an investment banker.

This time, she is making the rounds both as an emissary of House Democratic leadership and as chairwoman of the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist organization hoping a Democratic sweep in November will make it a pivotal group next year and beyond.

The group has an argument to make: Unlike most fellow moderates in the largely rural Blue Dog Coalition, New Democrats tend to represent the high-growth suburban districts that could provide Democrats their expanded margin in the House. And if Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) wins the White House, they say their votes will serve as a business-friendly check on the more liberal impulses of a party suddenly in control of all levers of power.

“Our strength is that we’re firmly embedded in the Caucus, writ large,” Tauscher said. “And we’re viewed by both the Speaker and Majority Leader as a go-to group to get votes, to make sure we have strong policies benefiting working families, and are working hard to be innovative and create jobs.”

As Tauscher’s New York trip suggests, the group is already maneuvering to play a central role in what is sure to be one of the fiercest debates of the next Congress: how to rewrite financial rules to avoid a repeat of the meltdown roiling markets worldwide.

In September, as the economic crisis was reaching full tilt, the coalition created a working group on regulatory modernization to begin studying approaches. And they are planning a half-day symposium for the November lame-duck session to quiz economic experts such as former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Leavitt on the topic.

More importantly, as Democratic leaders struggled to line up votes for a Wall Street bailout, New Democrats demonstrated they could deliver. On Sept. 24, five days before the first, failed vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) huddled with Tauscher and the coalition’s four vice chairmen, Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), Artur Davis (Ala.), Ron Kind (Wis.) and Adam Smith (Wash.). Their request was twofold. Could the New Democratic leaders lobby their own to ensure as many “yes” votes as possible? And could they also help explain the package to the broader Caucus?

Over the next several days, Crowley and Illinois Reps. Melissa Bean and Bill Foster — all New Democrats on the Financial Services Committee — made the case for the bill in Democratic Caucus meetings. The day before the vote, the coalition became the only Democratic Caucus group to formally endorse it. The measure failed, but New Democrats produced 39 votes, or two-thirds of their 60 members, in support. The second time around, 47 New Democrats lined up behind it.

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