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New Rules For New Democrats

Buoyed by record membership, the New Democrat Coalition is working to solidify its growing influence in the House, and is sharpening its organizational structure in the process.

“We really were looking at three main areas to improve, and to add value to Members and to the Caucus,” said NDC Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (Calif.), who listed those goals as administrative organization, fundraising and compiling a legislative agenda. “We had to organize ourselves in a responsible, predictable way.”

Among the significant changes, the centrist New Democrats, who count 63 members in the 110th Congress, approved new bylaws, including terms of office for executives and guidelines on how lawmakers may join the group, as well as establishing an internal whip post, filled by Rep. Joe Crowley (N.Y.), who also serves as one of the group’s four vice chairmen along with Reps. Adam Smith (Wash.), Ron Kind (Wis.) and Artur Davis (Ala.).

In addition, the coalition has hired its first-ever executive director, employing Matthew Schumaker, a former aide in Rep. Darlene Hooley’s (D-Ore.) office, where he served as both communications director and senior legislative assistant.

Schumaker also has served on Hooley’s 2006 and 2004 campaigns and worked on Sen. Mark Pryor’s (D-Ark.) successful 2002 bid.

“We took a lot of time to make sure we had all the pieces in place to create a very strong New Democrat Coalition to make sure we were ready to get to work as soon as we came out of the 100 hours,” Tauscher said, referring to the new majority’s much-touted January agenda, which focused on six legislative areas including the federal minimum wage and student loans.

In particular, Tauscher said Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has asked the coalition to take an “active role” in the Democrats’ innovation agenda, promoting research and development incentives, expansion of broadband access, promoting alternative energy sources, economic growth as well as advancing math and science education. The New Democrats also will focus their efforts on improving national security, a staple of the group’s agenda.

“We really feel very poised and ready to begin pushing forward,” Tauscher said, asserting that the New Democrats intend to work “inside” the Caucus. She noted that the coalition’s members retain seats not only on the four exclusive panels — Ways and Means, Appropriations, Financial Services and Energy and Commerce — but on a range of committees, including Armed Services.

“We’re very optimistic and we’re feeling as if the aspirations we have for the American people are absolutely in tune with the public policies the Caucus is going to be putting forward,” Tauscher added.

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