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A centrist group of House Democrats is betting it can buck the legislative odds and play a lead role in cutting bipartisan deals with Republicans on issues ranging from raising the debt ceiling to expanding clean energy.
The New Democrat Coalition, which includes the party’s more moderate members, is open to deals large or small, arguing voters are fed up with partisanship. However, they’ll face strong headwinds from many in their own party focused on denying the GOP any victories ahead of the 2024 elections and from a conservative Republican caucus that has struggled to find compromise – even among its own members.
New Democrat Coalition Chair Annie Kuster (D-N.H.) says her caucus is filled with “majority makers” in a House where Republicans only hold a five-seat edge. Of the group’s 95 members, 26 of them are in districts ranked competitive by the non-partisan Cook Political Report, including Kuster herself, and Democrats will need to retain those seats if they want to control the House come 2025.
“You have to have a bipartisan approach in order to represent your constituency,” she said in an interview with Bloomberg Government.
Some Republicans are not adverse to working with New Democrats.
Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), a member of the both the centrist Republican Governance Group and the Problem Solvers Caucus, said he’s seeing a recent increase in willingness to work across the aisle. He also said some of the animosity from Jan. 6 is waning as House Republican realize the reality of a divided government.
“I can get a bill through the House, but I can’t get it signed into law,” he said. ” If you are serious about getting a bill signed into law, you have to find some Democratic support here in the House, or there’s no chance.”
To better position themselves to find overlap between Democratic and Republican priorities, the New Democrat coalition has shuffled their task forces to focus specific areas of potential bipartisan collaboration.
Several new task forces address upcoming must-pass legislation like the Farm Bill Task Force and Economic Growth & Fiscal Responsibility, which will focus on the debt limit, among other things.
Other task forces have been retooled from last Congress to highlight potential bipartisan areas of compromise. The “Health Care Task Force” has been rebranded as the “Health Care, Substance Use, & Mental Health.” Another group on climate change has been retooled to add clean energy. Last year’s “Immigration Task Force” is now “Immigration and Border Security.”
Rounding out the task forces, which were shared with Bloomberg Government, are ones on workforce development, affordable housing, trade and national security.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said that while Democrats will need to partner with Republicans on urgent bills, they should be cautious about collaborating on measures with less impact just so Republicans can brand themselves as more moderate.
“There’s a lot of Republicans we’ve seen from even the most extreme parts of the party that are trying to do a rebranding without doing a soul searching,” she said. “And we should not aid that.”
Rep. David Joyce (R-Ohio), the chair of the Republican Governance Group, who also sees his group as “majority makers” on the GOP side, said in a statement that the coalition is “focused on effective governance and remains committed to working with all groups both within the Republican Conference and across the aisle.”
Kuster said New Democrats have already begun reaching out on co-sponsoring legislation. She has just signed onto bipartisan measure setting standards for 5G networks.
“With a four, five-vote margin there is an increased opportunity to work across the aisle,” she said. “They’ll be looking for ways to move forward and we’re here to help.”
Kuster also plans to use the task forces to give some vulnerable members a chance to work on issues that appeal to their constituents.
Rep. Kim Schrier (D-Wash.), who is heading up the Farm Bill Task Force, could face a potentially tough race back in Washington where her district includes a large rural area in the state’s center. Rep Emilia Sykes (D-Ohio), vice chair of the Affordable Housing Task Force, made the issue a part of her campaign in Northeast Ohio.
Rep. Greg Stanton (D-Ariz.), chair of the Immigration and Border Security Task Force, said the issue is key for his Phoenix-area constituents.
“I’m not sure people are overly concerned about the sausage making, but they want you to be effective in getting things done,” he said. “And in a divided government, as a practical matter, the way to get things done is in a bipartisan way.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Wilkins in Washington at email@example.com