Populist Caucus, Year One: Leaders, Followers and Coalitions in 2009

That's My CongressIn February of 2009, second-term congressman Bruce Braley of Iowa announced the formation of a new Congressional Member Organization, the Populist Caucus. Braley set out six central issues for the caucus:

The caucus aims to bring members of Congress together by rallying around six key middle class economic issues:

1. Creating Good Jobs and a Secure Retirement: Creating and retaining good-paying jobs in America, providing fair wages, proper benefits, a level playing field at the negotiating table, and ensuring American workers have secure, solvent retirement plans;

2. Cutting Taxes for the Middle Class: Cutting taxes for the middle class and establishing an equitable tax structure;

3. Affordable Healthcare: Providing affordable, accessible, quality health care for all Americans;

4. Quality, Affordable Education: Ensuring quality primary education for all American children, and affordable college education for all who want it;

5. Fair Trade: Defending American competitiveness by fighting for fair trade principles;

6. Protecting Consumers: Protecting consumers, so that Americans can have faith in the safety and effectiveness of the products they purchase.

In January 2010, Braley's office confirmed that the Populist Caucus has grown from an initial 23 members to a full 30. Who are these members of the Populist Caucus? How do they interact with one another? Has the Populist Caucus' success in attracting new members within the House translated to legislative success? How thoroughly have members supported policies in line with the platform of the Populist Caucus as noted above? To answer these questions, That's My Congress delves into the congressional record of cosponsorship for both the broad set of 4,412 substantive "H.R." bills introduced to the House of Representatives during the year of 2009, bills specifically promoted by the Populist Caucus, and bills consistent with the Populist Caucus platform but not mentioned in caucus communications. Which members of the Populist Caucus have built the strongest cooperative relationships with one another? Which members of the Populist Caucus are most and least likely to lend their support to caucus-endorsed bills? Which Populist Caucus members are most likely to carry their populist principles beyond official caucus business to the promotion of bills that follow the populist spirit even if they are not endorsed by a caucus letter?
Bill Sponsorship and Cosponsorship: Leaders, Followers and Factions
There are more and less valuable people to count as members of any committee; some people, for instance, just do more work than others. The following are the number of substantive House Resolution ("H.R.") bills introduced by members of the Populist Caucus in 2009:

Rep. Bob Filner: 44
Rep. Peter Welch: 21
Rep. Steve Cohen: 19
Rep. Peter DeFazio: 19
Rep. Keith Ellison: 17
Rep. Marcy Kaptur: 17
Rep. Jan Schakowsky: 15
Rep. Hank Johnson: 13
Rep. Jackie Speier: 13
Rep. Bruce Braley: 12
Rep. Phil Hare: 12
Rep. Thomas Perriello: 12
Rep. Linda Sanchez: 12
Rep. Michael Arcuri: 11
Rep. Ben Lujan: 11
Rep. Michael Michaud: 11
Rep. Louise Slaughter: 11
Rep. Mazie Hirono: 10
Rep. John Yarmuth: 10
Rep. Lloyd Doggett: 9
Rep. Carol Shea-Porter: 9
Rep. Brad Sherman: 9
Rep. Dan Lipinski: 8
Rep. Joe Courtney: 7
Rep. David Loebsack: 7
Rep. Steve Kagen: 8
Rep. Betty Sutton: 8
Rep. Henry Waxman: 8
Rep. Leonard Boswell: 6
Rep. Eric Massa: 3

Introducing a bill to the House of Representatives is a necessary step in getting it passed, but it's not enough. Some members of the Populist Caucus are more popular than others; their bills gain more support (through the act of cosponsorship) than other members' bills. Turning the tables, some members of the Populist Caucus are more prolific cosponsors than others, lending their support more readily. The graph below color-codes members of the Populist Caucus by what we term the "Balance of Cosponsorship". The Balance of Cosponsorship for a caucus member is the # of cosponsorships his/her bills gain from other caucus members, minus the # of cosponsorships s/he gives to other members' bills. The Balance of Cosponsorship is positive (colored green) when a caucus member gets more cosponsorships than s/he gives and is negative (colored red) when a caucus member gives away more cosponsorships to others than s/he gets in return.

Strong Cosponsorship Ties in the Congressional Populist Caucus, U.S. House of Representatives, 2009

Also on display in the above graph are are arrows pointing from one Representative to a second Representative. These arrows are present when the first Representative has cosponsored at least 5 of the bills introduced by the second Representative. These are indications of strong ties in the Populist Caucus, and the pattern of these ties indicate the presence not only of central figures to the caucus (most strikingly Bob Filner and Peter DeFazio), but also the existence of factions within the Populist caucus. These caucus factions are subgroups focused on shared support from a caucus member (four women: Janice Schakowsky to Linda Sanchez, Jackie Speier and Louise Slaughter), shared support to a caucus member (three men: Hank Johnson and John Yarmuth to Lloyd Doggett), or reciprocal ties (Iowa-based triad Leonard Boswell, David Loebsack and Bruce Braley).

You might think that the Balance of Cosponsorship could be easily predicted by paying attention to the number of bills a caucus member has introduced. Members who introduce a lot of bills have more opportunities to pick up cosponsors -- but such members also tend to be more active cosponsors of others' legislation, an indication of their overall greater engagement. A scatterplot of the number of bills introduced ("sponsored") by a member by their Balance of Cosponsorship shows a mild relationship at best, with an R-squared statistic indicating that only 20% of the variation in the Balance of Cosponsorship is due to the number of bills a member has sponsored. When the two outliers in the caucus -- poor producer, poorly supported Eric Massa and richly productive, strongly supported Bob Filner -- are eliminated from consideration, there is essentially no correlation between the two variables.

Scatterplot: H.R. Bills Sponsored vs. Balance of Cosponsorship, Congressional Populist Caucus, 2009

Populist Caucus Loyalty: Support for Caucus-Endorsed Bills
On Wednesday, January 27 2010, Populist Caucus Chair Bruce Braley announced a "Blueprint for Recovery" consisting of a set of four bills that the caucus had collectively endorsed. They are:
  1. H.R. 2521, the National Infrastructure Development Bank Act. This bill (introduced by non-caucus-member Rosa DeLauro) would create a government-owned corporation to identify and speed funding to infrastructure projects that would create jobs in America.
  2. H.R. 4191, the Let Wall Street Pay for the Restoration of Main Street Act. This bill would take a small fee from each stock trades and dedicate it to the federal budget, with funds tagged for deficit reduction and jobs investment.
  3. H.R. 4351, the Buy American Improvement Act. This bill would tighten existing requirements to ensure that federal tax dollars are used to buy American-made products when possible.
  4. H.R. 4426, the Wall Street Bonus Tax Act. This bill would tax bonuses of more than $50,000 given to executives at banks that were the recipients of federal TARP rescue largesse in 2009.

Although these bills have been collectively endorsed by the Populist Caucus, they have received the individual support of Populist Caucus members to a varying extent. H.R. 4426 has gained the most Populist Caucus cosponsors: 23 out of 30. Only 16 out of 30 Populist Caucus members have cosponsored H.R. 4191; H.R. 2521 and H.R. 4351 have gained only 11 Populist Caucus cosponsors as of January 31, 2010. The Populist Caucus is not a unanimous one, and as of the writing of this report there are only two caucus members (Betty Sutton and Bruce Braley) who have cosponsored all four elements of the "Blueprint for Recovery." Four nominal members of the Populist Caucus -- Henry Waxman, Jackie Speier, Brad Sherman and Ben Lujan -- have not formally indicated their support for a single one of these bills, and a further five have thrown their support behind only one of these bills.
Support for Populist-Spirited Bills: Support Credit Card Relief from Usury
As a coda for this report, let's look at a bill that falls outside the Populist Caucus' formal zone of endorsement but nonetheless fits its spirit. In December of 2009, Rep. John Tierney introduced H.R. 4300, a bill responding to last year’s huge hikes in credit card interest rates and fees by imposing a 16% annual interest rate cap on consumer credit cards, along with a maximum $15 charge for late fees and similar penalties. In mid-December of 2009, only 37% of Populist Caucus members had cosponsored Tierney's bill, but by January 31, 2010 that portion had risen to 63% (19 out of 30 members). Among the non-cosponsors of this bill: Bruce Braley, Populist Caucus Chair.
Report Submitted on January 31, 2010
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