May 16, 2022

ICYMI New Democrat Coalition’s 25th Anniversary in Real Clear Politics:

“When I first came to Congress, someone told me that there are two types of lawmakers: legislators and provocateurs. New Dems are legislators. New Dems care about good policy and getting things done. That’s what most Americans want to see in their legislators” - New Dem Chair Suzan DelBene

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the New Democrat Coalition. AB Stoddard, associate editor of Real Clear Politics and columnist, wrote about the Coalition’s track record over the past quarter century as serious legislators who break through the gridlock to get stuff done in Congress and deliver results for the American people. You can read the full article here and below:

House Dems Have a Mod Squad. Do Voters Have Any Idea?

By AB Stoddard 

As a daunting November election comes into focus, and the collapse of Build Back Better is disappearing from the rear-view mirror, Democrats are debating how to use their time before likely losing unified control of the federal government. Progressives want President Biden to abandon the legislative process altogether, while another group of House Democrats is urging him to deliver on a campaign promise – to pass as many bipartisan bills as possible.

Still clinging to their mobilization-over-persuasion theory of elections, liberal Democrats want Biden to use executive action to cancel student debt in hopes such a move will turn out young voters. They argue that the Senate has blocked too many of their priorities and time is running short to deliver for the party’s base. But 98 members of the New Democrat Coalition are instead urging the president to use the remaining months to pass bipartisan innovation and competition legislation designed to address supply chain disruption, and numerous bipartisan health care bills targeting mental health and substance abuse. Yes, work with Republicans to get legislation through both chambers and signed into law.

These Democrats, of course, have the most to lose in a GOP-favoring wave election. The New Dems are what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls “the majority makers” – 22 of the 35 frontline Democrats in battleground districts are New Dems.

The New Democrat Coalition was founded 25 years ago by Reps. Cal Dooley, Jim Moran, and Tim Roemer three years into the first Democratic minority in Congress in four decades. Things have changed immeasurably since then as social media has radically changed the game, and bipartisan collaboration is much harder to achieve.

Rep. Suzan DelBene, the second woman to chair the New Dem caucus, leads a much more diverse group, one that is now the largest ideological caucus. But DelBene, who had a career in business and technology before coming to Congress, said the goal of passing fiscally responsible, pro-growth, pro-innovation policies remains the same today as when the group formed in 1997. Though governing may have become more challenging, voters “yearn to see governance work again,” DelBene said in an interview, adding, “Good policy is good politics.” 

While progressives and moderate Democrats battled throughout 2021 over infrastructure legislation and a massive social welfare spending bill, they disagreed not only on politics and policy but on process as well. Progressives wanted to pack as many provisions into the final package as possible by funding them for short time periods. All of those programs, they argued, would be so popular they would get extended. But New Dems opposed setting up fiscal “cliffs” that would end programs after a few years and create uncertainty and disruption, and instead prioritized doing “fewer things better, for longer.”

The two factions are still arguing about the same thing. Since there is no hope of reviving any form of Build Back Better, progressives want the Biden administration to issue executive orders for their unaddressed priorities including action on climate, student debt, prescription drug costs, and additional fixes to the Affordable Care Act. New Dems, however, want bills signed into law that can’t be erased by the pen of the next president who opposes them. 

Throughout the tortured debate over Biden’s agenda last year, White House officials promised progressives their wish list could remain intact, and agreed to pair the bills even after Pelosi said infrastructure should go first. House Progressive Caucus chair Rep. Pramila Jayapal would race from CNN to MSNBC talking about how every component in the BBB had to remain in the final package because the party had promised it all to voters (which Democrats most certainly had not), while members of the Squad were saying helpful things like Sen. Joe Manchin is a racist. Sample quote: “Joe Manchin’s opposition to the Build Back Better Act is anti-Black, anti-child, anti-woman, and anti-immigrant,” Rep. Cori Bush said in a statement after Manchin declared his opposition to the bill. 

While the media camped out in front of Manchin’s office, and he offered his blunt assessments throughout, moderate Democrats in the House stayed silent. New Dems keep a far lower profile than their liberal colleagues. And when attacked as “corporate Democrats,” they haven’t fought back. Sure, it’s one thing for Manchin to become the most famous face in Washington, but what House member in a swing district would want to attract the wrath of safe-seat Democrats who relish the opportunity to raise cash off any dispute, real or imagined?

When centrist Democrats pushed for their leadership to pass the infrastructure bill first, they were blasted by progressives for suggesting that a massive spending bill that had no GOP support might take more time to resolve. 

“If mods [moderates] want to blow up the infra deal, that's on them. I know this is tough for some to understand, but the US is more than a handful of suburbs- communities outside them aren't disposable," Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote in a tweet, adding, "And just bc something is 'bipartisan' doesn't mean it's good. Look at Wall St bailouts.” 

It was a mirror of what Sen. Bernie Sanders was doing in the Senate – taking hostages and accusing others of … taking hostages. Sanders frequently issued edicts about what the price tag and components of BBB had to be. First $6 trillion wasn’t enough, then $3.5 trillion was also too small. But he preferred high-profile tiffs with Manchin over quiet negotiation. 

“What bothers me is people like Manchin turning their backs on the people of this country and basically saying if I don't get everything I want, I'm not going forward. That is not acceptable to me,” Sanders said while inadvertently providing a precise description of his own approach. 

DelBene, like her New Dem colleagues, ignores the squawking from the left. She stays relentlessly on message and avoids any mention of progressives or divisions within the party. 

“When I first came to Congress, someone told me that there are two types of lawmakers: legislators and provocateurs. New Dems are legislators. New Dems care about good policy and getting things done. That’s what most Americans want to see in their legislators,” she said. 

Voters may not be aware of the force of moderates in the House. The coalition makes up more than 40% of House Democrats, but DelBene said New Dems are representative of where the American people are. “We really are the center of gravity. We really are the reason we are in the majority,” she said. 

To her point, House Assistant Majority Leader Jim Clyburn, credited with rescuing the party from having Bernie The Socialist as its nominee, is a founding member of the New Democrat Coalition. Cedric Richmond, departing White House senior advisor, is also a former New Dem – along with Governors Jared Polis of Colorado, Kathy Hochul of New York, John Carney of Delaware, and Jay Inslee of Washington.

New Democrats have the ear of the President, and made the case to him at the White House the same day he met with progressives last month. Will he heed their advice and choose popular, durable policies over bypassing Congress for pen-and-phone politics future presidents can erase? The coming months will tell.