Pressure for House Democratic Picks to Represent Diverse Caucus
With House Republicans and both parties in the Senate locking in their picks for the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, House Democrats are now in the hot seat to appoint Members to the panel who can personify the Caucus’ assorted constituencies.
Minorities, moderates and progressives are all vying for their interests to be represented in the talks, regardless of whether they are asking for a seat in the room.
As a result, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has a delicate balancing act ahead of her to choose well-qualified Members who can also engage the wider Caucus.
“Three Members is just not enough to represent the entire Caucus, and that’s the truth,” a senior Democratic aide said.
In a Caucus meeting before the House adjourned, Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. called for leaders to appoint at least one African-American, Latino, Asian-American or woman to the talks. He followed that up with an Aug. 1 letter to Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Tri-Caucus leaders, stating that progressive and minority viewpoints were overshadowed by “conservative male negotiators” in the debt talks.
“Who will suffer the most under the apparent winner of the job-killing austerity plan? Those who are already suffering the most under present conditions — African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and women,” the Illinois Democrat wrote. “Therefore, I think it is only fair that African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans and women be represented.”
Reid appointed a woman, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), as co-chairwoman of the committee, but so far, every member is white. The onus is now on Pelosi to appoint at least one minority Member, especially if she hopes to placate the Tri-Caucus, a group that makes up more than a third of all House Democrats.
Pelosi responded to Jackson in the Caucus meeting, stating that she has a strong record of including minorities on committees, according to sources in the meeting, especially the Simpson-Bowles deficit commission — with Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.) and Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) — and the talks hosted by Vice President Joseph Biden, in which Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.) participated.
Early speculation has singled out all three of those Members, especially Clyburn, a trusted adviser to Pelosi who has the unflinching trust of not just the Tri-Caucus, but also moderates in the New Democrat and Blue Dog coalitions.
Some progressives are wary of the new committee to begin with, citing the old adage that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
If the super committee is made up of the same people who were in the debts talks, “the outcome will be the same,” a House Democratic aide said. “At the end of the day, the deal that we got had nothing to do with what progressives wanted.”
That view was driven home by a blistering July statement from Progressive Caucus Co-Chairman Raúl Grijalva about the debt deal, in which the Arizona Democrat said the deal “trades people’s livelihoods for the votes of a few unappeasable right-wing radicals.”
Moderate Democrats also sent a letter to leadership asking that voices dedicated to long-term deficit reform be included in the committee.
“There hasn’t really been one Member that everyone has coalesced around, but we are looking for someone with a commitment to comprehensive reform,” a senior Democratic aide said.
But a Democratic leadership aide noted that Blue Dogs have not been scrambling to be on the committee, and nor should they, given many may have to sell a tough deal in far-from-safe political districts.