Pelosi Revamps the Steering Committee

Posted March 12, 2003 at 6:20pm

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday unveiled her plans to revamp the current Democratic policy structure and expand the party’s Steering Committee to serve as her regular sounding board on major issues before Congress.

And she will turn to her closest confidant and fellow Californian, Rep. George Miller, to be another co-chairman of the newly formed committee. Miller, credited with spearheading Pelosi’s rise to power in the House minority, will become the latest in a long line of her California allies to get a plum position. Pelosi announced details of the overhaul in a closed-door Steering Committee session on Wednesday. She told Members that Miller will chair the policy part of the Steering panel and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) will keep her position as chairwoman in charge of committee assignments.

Pelosi will also disband the Democratic Policy Committee, which served for years as the party’s policy organization. She will, however, have a policy staff that will dispense issue packets to Members, analyze legislation and help build consensus among lawmakers on key issues.

The DPC has been in place for some time but has changed structurally over the years. Most recently, the committee was merely a staff-driven shop run by former Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.).

Under the new structure, Pelosi plans to meet with the Steering panel on a regular basis on major policy topics. Already, the leader has been seeking the committee’s input on issues ranging from prescription drug reform to the budget.

“It would be used primarily as a sounding board to get a sense on critical issues and message opportunities,” said one member of the Democratic leadership.

Rep. Robert Matsui (D-Calif.), whom Pelosi tapped as chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and a member of the Steering Committee, said the plan is a good idea.

“I’m really happy that she thought of it,” he said. “It reflects the Caucus as well as any group that could be formed.”

He added that the Steering Committee not only comprises Members from different ethnic, regional and political backgrounds, but also provides a mix of both junior and veteran lawmakers.

DeLauro agreed, saying the Steering panel will get back its original duties of discussing and vetting public policy.

“I’m sure we will have the opportunity to talk about the issues people are interested in and listen to people who might be brought in for the policy discussion,” she said.

The Steering Committee comprises nearly 50 Members, many of whom are close Pelosi allies who were appointed earlier this year by the leader.

Given that makeup, several senior Democratic staffers said it’s critical the Steering Committee would have policy discussions truly reflective of the entire Caucus, given that it comprises many of her philosophical allies.

“Today’s action doesn’t really help in the perception that’s expressed throughout the Caucus that Nancy is trying to surround herself with her allies,” said a Democratic aide. “It’s normal for any leader to do that, but when you can draw from such a broad range of talent in our Caucus it just seems short sighted.”

In name the Steering panel has always had a policy component, but it has not exercised that function. Under Gephardt the committee was charged with just doling out committee slots.

But the former leader also had a separate group of 20-30 Members with whom he met nearly every day while Congress was in session. That group served as his policy sounding board.

“However you do it, you have to have a group of Members representative of the diversity of the Caucus that you talk to every day,” said a former senior Democratic aide. “You need some interim group of enough Members that you can get a sense of what the rank-and-file are thinking.”

The same former staffer said the Steering Committee could serve the same purpose, given its size and makeup.