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Schumer: Caucus Controls Its Own Destiny

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Charles Schumer, shown at a press event Friday to discuss the extension of tax cuts, said the new, smaller Democratic majority in the Senate will better coordinate its efforts on policy, legislative action and public communications.

Like Schumer, Begich said he envisioned “more of a collective environment,” where decisions would be reached from within the rank and file. Indeed, several junior Members — such as  Begich, who is a member of the class of 2008 — said they want decision-making to be more “bottom-up” than “top-down.”

“I think it’s a mechanism for getting broader caucus input into our decisions, and that I think will make it a better decision-making process with more cohesion and everybody feeling that they got their chance to have their say,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) said. 

But Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), who noted the outlines of the new DPC have not been articulated, said Reid “still calls the shots.”

Though he won’t officially take over DPC until next year, Schumer said leaders have been trying to make the caucus “much more inclusive” already.

“I’m amazed at the talent in our caucus, and it wasn’t used enough,” Schumer said. 

He continued, “I’m not going to get into specific details here, but there’s going to be far more inclusiveness and sharing of responsibility for policy, politics and press among Members of the caucus.”

As evidence of the change, he pointed to a coordinated effort on the floor last week in which Democrats attacked Republicans for a letter suggesting they would block all legislation until the Senate dealt with taxes and the economy. Part of the effort involved asking unanimous consent to pass bills dealing with tax breaks and job creation and getting a predictable GOP objection to the move.

Schumer called the moves “a microcosm” of what’s to come.  “We’re showing the middle class we’re on their side. Our press, our politics and our policy are all on the same page. We’re not doing anything else … and we’re putting the Republicans on the defensive.”

Schumer also said the marathon caucus sessions Democrats have had since they returned for the lame-duck session have been more than just grievance sessions.

“One of the reasons we’ve had longer caucuses is because the caucus is becoming more of a decision-maker group,” he said.

Overall, Democratic Senators appear to support the change to the DPC. After all, members of the 2006 and 2008 classes were primarily behind the move after complaining that the 2009 health care debate wasn’t well-coordinated.

Reid’s role will continue to be to “work with his whip to continue to keep caucus unity, work with Republicans to move legislation forward, work with the chairman of the DPC to make sure that the decisions Reid is making are also going to be synced up with a message strategy, and working with the [Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee] chairman to make sure the policy we’re putting forward is beneficial to our Members, especially those who are up in 2012,” the aide said.

Schumer echoed that point, saying of the entire leadership team, “We are all in this together. We’re a united leadership team, and we’re going to sink or swim together.”

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