- The Washington Times - Monday, June 10, 2002

Two centrist groups in the House Democratic Caucus are working to better combine their efforts as they seek more clout within a caucus they feel is too liberal.
Members of the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democrat Coalition believe a united effort will lead to more influence over everything from policy and legislation to leadership races and placements on key committees.
"Strength is in numbers," said Rep. Chris John, Louisiana Democrat and co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition. "When you put the two groups together, we're almost 100 strong. And I think that is a coalition that needs to be heard within our caucus."
Rep. Adam Smith of Washington said the caucus is taking a more "leftward tilt" than either the Blue Dog Coalition or the New Democrat Coalition believes is beneficial.
"Philosophically, they're not looking to take the caucus in a direction that we would like to," said Mr. Smith, co-chairman of the New Democrat Coalition (NDC).
Mr. John said the main goal of the new alliance is "having a seat at the table at the initial coordinating of the Democratic caucus position" on policy, legislation and other issues. He said it is not about fighting the caucus but rather "influencing the caucus from within."
Among other issues, the two groups share a common interest in promoting fiscal discipline and personal responsibility, Mr. Smith said.
"Legislation that is cost-effective," said Rep. Joe Baca from California, a member of the Blue Dogs who also is planning to join the New Democrats.
Specific issues on which the groups will collaborate are under discussion.
Mr. John said the alliance is still in the "very early stages" and the two groups are working to build trust and credibility with each other.
The two groups had worked together in the past, but this more concerted effort happened, in part, because the reins of the New Democrats were handed over in April to three new leaders Mr. Smith and Reps. Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Jim Davis of Florida.
These three and the Blue Dog co-chairmen Mr. John, and Reps. Allen Boyd of Florida, and Jim Turner of Texas came to Congress at the same time and are friends. Mr. John said it is only natural that they work more closely together.
During a meeting a few weeks ago, the six leaders discussed myriad issues, as well as politics and leadership races.
Mr. John has been trying to build a voting bloc that will influence the race for Democratic Caucus chairman between Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Robert Menendez of New Jersey. So far, 27 Blue Dogs have agreed to withhold endorsements in the race for now, he said.
"It's too early; we don't know what's going to happen in November," he said. "There may be new candidates out there."
The groups' six leaders last year backed Rep. Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland in the race for minority whip, a seat that went to Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California.
Although the two groups are considered centrist, they have their differences.
The Blue Dog Coalition is a policy-oriented group with Southern roots that is more conservative on social issues.
Meanwhile, the New Democrat Coalition does not adhere to a particular ideology, but members tend to be pro-business and many are interested in high-tech issues.
Mr. John said the 33-member Blue Dogs are a close-knit group that votes internally on issues and then runs with them. In contrast, he said, the New Democrats are larger, with 74 members, and have a better financial network. Twenty-three members of the Blue Dogs also are members of the NDC.
Mr. Baca said he hopes the united effort will help members secure more assignments to key committees such as Rules, Commerce, Ways and Means, and Appropriations.
Policy changes are needed in the caucus, he said, because while Republicans allow newer, up-and-coming members to get placements on key committees, the Democrats' committee assignments still are based largely on seniority.
Mr. Baca noted that no Blue Dogs are on the House Rules Committee, which structures floor debate for legislation. The Blue Dogs tried unsuccessfully to get Mr. Baca on that panel.
But Mr. John said the Blue Dogs have had some success with committee assignments, noting that two of the three newest Commerce Committee members are Blue Dogs.


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