New Democrats Regroup, With Smaller Roster

Posted March 8, 2005 at 4:05pm

The House New Democrat Coalition membership has been halved in the wake of a massive restructuring that set new requirements for joining the group. While that might be bad news for some groups, NDC leaders say they are happy about having a tighter core of Members pushing their agenda.

Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), chairman of the NDC political action committee, said, “The membership came back stronger than expected.”

“We’ve had a few meetings and there is a real enthusiasm for what we are doing, which in general is trying to stake out the right policies,” Smith said. A smaller membership “is what we wanted and exactly what happened because people had to make an affirmative commitment.”

Some 40 lawmakers so far have opted to stick with the centrist Democratic group. The group had 74 members at the beginning of the 109th Congress.

The reorganization, which went into effect Feb. 9, called for the formation of a PAC, a refocused policy agenda and new criteria for membership including participation in events and contribution requirements.

“I think we’re on track to heighten the NDC to a prominent position — we’re reinvigorating some of our issue interests by creating working groups to focus on topics like national security, Social Security and technology,” said Rep. Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), chairwoman of the NDC.

“We’re bringing in speakers and experts to discuss issues of the day, and we’re returning to a place of influence by taking NDC positions on important legislative matters like bankruptcy reform.”

Leaders set those new standards to ensure the New Democrat membership would be made up of truly committed lawmakers.

Reps. Artur Davis (Ala.) and Ron Kind (Wis.) are co-chairmen of the NDC. Smith and Kind served as leaders in the 108th Congress.

The NDC has suffered through several years of political uncertainty, struggling to find its way. The group formed in 1997 and found success working with the Clinton administration, an ideological ally with whom it shared similar policies on free trade, technology and education.

Smith said it “took us a little while to adjust,” but the New Democrats now are working to rebuild.

As part of that, he said, the group will be reaching out and working with different factions of the Democratic Party, including the liberal wing, to influence the message and agenda.

“We’re so far in the minority that the idea we could have some constant internal fight is absurd,” Smith said. “The opposition is far too powerful.”