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Caucus Spreads the Wealth With Task Force Overhaul

House Democrats have completed restructuring a key piece of their internal message and policy-making shop, placing a heftier focus on the economy and improving their outreach to key party constituencies.

Democratic Caucus Chairman Bob Menendez (N.J.) said the party has completed its two-month reworking of its 18 task forces, the panels used to help shape and communicate Caucus decisions. Menendez led the overhaul, which resulted from ideas he solicited through Caucus-wide surveys.

Menendez said while House Democrats still have the same number of task forces, the new structure has added greater diversity of Members and places a heavier emphasis on core party issues and party communication. Some 138 Democrats have signed up to participate in the task forces.

New to the Caucus is a Democratic outreach task force, devoted to working with constituency groups that support the party, including blacks, Hispanics and Asian Americans. Also, the Caucus now has reformulated several existing panels and created a new task force called tax policy and the budget to add more focus to the economy, the Democrats’ top issue this election cycle.

In the past, the Caucus had one overarching panel on the economy. Now, in addition to the tax panel, it has a jobs and the economy task force and an education and job training task force.

Menendez said the restructured task forces will go a long way toward improving policy development, creating a stronger message around Democratic initiatives and adding opportunities for members of the Caucus. And, he said, the new task forces are more representative of the diversity in the Caucus and give newer Members and those in swing districts a greater chance to participate.

“We think we met all of our goals in terms of their composition,” Menendez said. “The full diversity of the Caucus is represented in the task force leadership, we’ve added two freshmen to the leadership and we’ve effectively matched people with their interests and commitments.”

Women lead seven of the task forces; blacks lead two panels, and Hispanics chair another two. The task forces are also ideologically diverse, with four led by conservative Blue Dog Democrats, nine headed by moderate New Democrats and four chaired by progressive Members.

For the first time, none of the elected leaders heads any of the task forces, and two freshmen are in charge. Those new Members are Reps. Denise Majette (D-Ga.), chairwoman of the jobs and the economy panel, and Rául Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chairman of the environment task force.

“We think that the greatest single political asset is our Members,” Menendez said. “I think this process tapped into those abilities.”

Menendez added a total of four new panels, including women’s issues, tax policy and the budget, the environment and Democratic outreach.

The Caucus also decided to retain a panel called homeland security, created last year in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Menendez said.

The four new task forces replace campaign finance reform, census, election reform and welfare reform, which was folded into another committee this year.

“We’re looking forward to a very proactive session,” Menendez said.

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