The New Democrat Coalition is ready to help the House majority craft its policy agenda for the 116th Congress, launching eight issue-focused task forces to develop proposals on party priorities such as health care, infrastructure and climate change.
The group of centrist Democrats has used task forces to develop policy proposals in past Congresses, but they’re particularly excited about the work the task forces will do this session now that their party is in the majority.
With 101 coalition members, the New Democrats are the largest ideological group within the 240-member House Democratic Caucus. Through its eight task forces, the group is planning to play an active role in developing the policy agenda the party pursues over the next two years.
“We’re excited about the diverse perspectives and impressive ideas that all of our members will bring to the table,” New Democrat Chairman Derek Kilmer said in an interview. “I think we’re confident that our task forces can turn some of these ideas into pragmatic solutions, into actual policies to move the ball forward and engage with our entire caucus and hopefully the entire Congress.”
To make engagement outside the coalition easier, the group set up its task forces with at least one co-chair on each serving on a committee with jurisdiction over the policy area. They also ensured the co-chairs represented a broad range of other groups within the Democratic Caucus, like the large freshmen class and the various diversity caucuses.
“We wanted that diversity so people could bring ideas in from different perspectives,” said Washington Rep. Suzan DelBene, who as the coalition’s vice chair for policy helped form the task forces for the 116th Congress.
The policy areas of the task forces were chosen based on a survey conducted of the membership, DelBene and Kilmer said. Most of the groups repeat policy areas New Democrats have studied in prior Congresses, but climate change is a new one this year, they said.
The eight task forces and their co-chairs are:
Reps. Donald S. Beyer Jr. and Elaine Luria of Virginia, Sean Casten of Illinois and Susan Wild of Pennsylvania. Beyer serves on the Ways and Means Committee, which has some jurisdiction in the area because climate change solutions are often interwoven with tax and trade policies.
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Reps. Angie Craig of Minnesota, Kurt Schrader of Oregon, Kim Schrier of Washington and Greg Stanton of Arizona. Schrader is on the Energy and Commerce Committee that has a lot of jurisdiction over health care policies.
Del. Stacey Plaskett of the Virgin Islands and Reps. Jason Crow of Colorado, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Salud Carbajal of California. Plaskett and Carbajal serve on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Reps. Anthony G. Brown of Maryland, Brendan F. Boyle of Pennsylvania, Brad Schneider of Illinois and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. Brown serves on the Armed Services Committee and Spanberger on the Foreign Affairs panel.
Reps. Sharice Davids of Kansas, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Harley Rouda of California and Darren Soto of Florida. Soto serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee and its technology subcommittee. Horn is on the Science, Space and Technology Committee.
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Some of the co-chairs are serving on task forces from industries they’ve worked in before coming to Congress. Spanberger’s placement on the national security task force, for example, is apt given her previous career in the CIA.
Health care co-chairs Craig and Schrier both have experience in the arena — Craig as the head of human resources for a Fortune 500 company and Schrier as a pediatrician.
Craig also has a personal connection to the topic, having grown up without health insurance. She said she looks forward to using her personal and professional background in contributing to the task force’s work on health care policy.
“I think we have to rethink how we pay for health care in this country,” Craig said, noting that the current system emphasizes volume of care over quality of care.
She feels the task force and Congress need to look at both short- and long-term solutions at the same time. Ideas Craig wants to explore include creating a federal reinsurance program and providing a buy-in option for Medicare.
Craig is one of just a handful of members of the New Democrat Coalition who is also a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. The groups have different approaches to health care — likely one of the largest policy rifts the Democratic Caucus will have to deal with — with leaders of the latter group pushing “Medicare for All.”
“I want to be open to all ideas, but obviously, I’m on record saying I don’t think we’re going to morph the health care system into ‘Medicare for All’ in 24 months,” Craig said.
However, she hopes she can help the New Democrats and the progressives find common ground on health care.
‘Long lasting policy change’
Kilmer said the task forces are free to collaborate with other caucuses as they craft their policy proposals.
“The New Dems are open to working with anyone serious about making real and long lasting policy change to improve the lives of Americans and to solve some big problems,” the Washington lawmaker said.
One policy area in which the Democratic Caucus may more easily unify is on infrastructure.
Plaskett served on the New Democrat Coalition’s infrastructure task force last Congress and said the group laid out policy ideas this year’s task force can build on quickly in hopes of contributing to legislation expected to move through the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee sometime this year.
“I really believe we have a huge opportunity in this Congress with the Democrats leading the charge and under the chairmanship of Peter DeFazio to really get an infrastructure bill across the line,” Plaskett said.
The biggest challenge in developing an infrastructure package is identifying offsets. Last Congress, the coalition’s task force explored financing projects through infrastructure banks and studied the efficacy of the gas tax, Plaskett said.
“My hope as one of the co-chairs is to really reach out to the country to test some of those ideas,” she said.
The task forces do not have specific deadlines or benchmarks, but those like the infrastructure group that have a foundation of policy ideas developed in prior Congresses may be quicker to produce reports and propose legislation, Kilmer said.
“One of the key things as New Dems is we’re coming up with innovative ideas,” DelBene said, noting that some of the task forces lend themselves to experimenting with new policy ideas.
For example, she participated in the Future of Work task force that put together legislation on portable benefits.
“That particular bill was about pilots so we can understand what things work well,” DelBene said.
While the task forces have set co-chairs, any member of the coalition can participate in whichever groups they want. Some members like to work on task forces related to work they do in their committees, while others like to dig into policy areas they don’t typically get to work on, DelBene said.
As the groups formulate concrete ideas and draft legislation, Kilmer said the proposals will be shared with committee chairs and party leaders.
“The task forces have been and will continue to be the area where New Dems try to drive forward some of the thought leadership in our caucus with regard to policy issues,” he said. “At a time when Congress hasn’t historically been a legislative juggernaut, it’s more important than ever that we target some areas where we can move the ball forward and advance some policies that help our economy.”