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New Democrat Coalition Is Ready to Deal

The New Democrat Coalition is hoping to turn its bolstered membership into a more important role in the 113th Congress.

Its newly elected chairman, Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Ron Kind, said the group could help “bridge the gap” between Republicans and Democrats on any deficit reduction deal or tax reform bill.

“If the Republican leadership in the House is truly interested in trying to find common ground and reach out, there are going to be members in our coalition that are going to be interested in working to try to find that,” Kind said in an interview.

The coalition has 43 members in the current Congress, and with newly elected Democrats and several lawmakers who are eyeing membership, the group could have as many as 55 members in the 113th Congress. That would surpass the peak membership of the Blue Dog Coalition in the 111th Congress, before its ranks were weakened in elections.

As in the 112th Congress, important legislation could hinge on Democratic — not Republican — votes in the House. In the 112th Congress, Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, has passed a number of big-ticket items only because Democrats provided enough votes to offset Republican defections.

Some Democratic observers wonder, though, whether Kind will be able to command the coalition as a unified bloc, citing the varied stances of many of the New Democrats.

“There’s way too many New Dems in name only,” said a Democratic lobbyist, who pointed to the South Korea free-trade agreement as a vote that the coalition should have backed more vigorously.

“Like any coalition, you have a diversity of members and interests and they have a responsibility first and foremost to represent those who elected them. We understand that. The New Dems … in the past, were able to produce votes on crucial issues to help establish our identity,” Kind said.

He described the identity of his new coalition as “a group of members working hard to understand the complexities of the global economy. What we do policy-wise to ensure that we remain the most innovative and competitive and creative nation in the world. And what do we need to do to ensure that all American citizens are full participants of this global marketplace?”

While the Blue Dogs are Southern-dominated, fiscally conservative House Democrats who have banded with Republicans on hot-button issues such as gun rights and abortion, New Democrats are more likely to depart from Democratic orthodoxy on economic issues, particularly at the intersection of federal policy and globalization.

In many instances, the group has focused on niche financial services and health care issues, but Kind has more ambitious targets in mind — chief among them a deficit reduction deal and tax reform.

“We’re at a unique moment right now in our nation’s history, with the election results from last Tuesday. I do feel time is of the essence. We have an opportunity now of putting in place a process that will establish comprehensive deficit reduction. And hopefully in a bipartisan fashion because it’s the only way it can be done,” Kind said.

But Kind faulted Boehner’s recent offer on increasing tax revenues, but not rates, for a lack of specifics.

“It’s easy to say, but unless you start putting some expenditures on the table, just what specifically you would eliminate in order to increase revenues, it’s all at the 30,000-foot level,” he said. “And this is the problem we’ve had in the Ways and Means Committee over the last couple of years. Of the endless tax reform hearings that we had, it’s all being done at the 30,000-foot level. And unless or until someone has some ideas that they’re willing to put on paper, that’s when the real discussion has to take place.”

With Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., staying on as the top House Democrat, the coalition missed a chance to see one of its natural allies, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md., ascend to that position. Hoyer, generally considered the most moderate member of Democratic leadership, would have a natural affinity with the group.

Rep. Joseph Crowley, D-N.Y., the outgoing chairman, is in a good position to win his bid for the caucus vice chairman slot, providing a voice for the New Democrats at the leadership table.

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