One of the more interesting developments in the behind-the-scenes organization of the House this year is the introduction of a whole new caucus, the Populist Caucus. It's the brainchild of IA-01's Bruce Braley, who despite his sophomore status is well on his way to establishing himself as a major player in the House (he's also the DCCC's candidate services vice-chair).
The House Democrats certainly aren't hurting for ideological caucuses (the Progressive Caucus, New Democrats, and Blue Dogs pretty clearly mark out the left, center, and right of the Democratic caucus). But the Populist Caucus -- which has a current top priority of getting "Buy American" provisions included in the stimulus package, but plans to focus on health care and tax as well as trade issues -- is interesting because it draws on members from across the ideological spectrum. In addition to Braley, the announced members are:
Reps. Michael Arcuri (D-NY); Pete DeFazio (D-OR); Betty Sutton (D-OH); Leonard Boswell (D-IA); Steve Cohen (D-TN); Joe Courtney (D-CT); Keith Ellison (D-MN); Bob Filner (D-CA); Phil Hare (D-IL); Mazie Hirono (D-HI); Hank Johnson (D-GA); Steve Kagan (D-WI); David Loebsack (D-IA); Eric Massa (D-NY); Linda Sanchez (D-CA); Jan Schakowsky (D-IL); Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH); Peter Welch (D-VT); and John Yarmuth (D-KY).
While there's a fair amount of overlap with the Progressive Caucus (of the 20, 11 are also big-P Progressives), there are also some New Dems (Courtney, Braley himself), and some of the less objectionable Blue Dogs (Arcuri, Boswell). There isn't even much of a correlation with the first bailout vote -- of the 19 who voted, 7 were 'ayes' (Arcuri, Boswell, Cohen, Ellison, Hare, Loebsack, and Schakowsky) -- although that may have to do with the panic surrounding the initial bailout and dismay over how it's been administered. There are some names that you'd certainly expect to see in any Populist Caucus (DeFazio), but also some likely suspects missing (starting with Marcy Kaptur).
If there's a common thread here, it may be what I observed among Democratic 'no' votes when looking for a pattern in the strange vote alignment in the first bailout vote in September: it's representatives from rural or small-city districts that seem to be geographically and/or economically removed from Wall Street and other centers of power (although there are a few exceptions, like Jan Schakowsky's affluent IL-09). Or, it may simply boil down to the districts with some of the angriest constituents:
"As someone who has been out holding town hall meetings and getting a faceful of that populist rage, I know that it is real, it is a force that needs to be dealt with, and it needs to be given a voice," said Braley.