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Progressive, Populist, Labor: Connection in Three Congressional Caucuses

As mentioned earlier this month, the substantive agenda of the House of Representatives’ Populist Caucus fits as a subset inside the substantive agenda of the House Progressive Caucus. The Populist Caucus proclaims its “middle class” orientation (over and over and over again) to shoring up economic security through pushing for better provision of health care and education, lower middle class taxes, consumer protections, fair trade, and lots of jobs. The Progressive Caucus places “economic security” as one of the four columns of its agenda, with others priorities being civil liberty, peace and environmental protection.

If the Populist Caucus has a substantively limited stated agenda, does that mean that its members are less progressive in their individual action than members of the Progressive Caucus? To answer this question, we looked to our tracking score of twenty pieces of legislation in the House of Representatives, meant to represent adherence to (or deviation from) the progressive agenda. Our shortest answer to that question is “yes”: we found that members of the Progressive Caucus had a greater progressive action score in the House than members of the Populist Caucus. However, the highest scoring group was comprised of those members of the House who were members of both caucuses. Some might see the Populist Caucus as a lukewarm competitor of the Progressive Caucus because of its more limited agenda, but membership profiles suggest that dual participation attracts a stronger progressive core. A citizen interested in seeing the progressive agenda progress through the Congress would be reasonably encouraged to see his or her member of Congress become involved in both organizations.

At the time I last looked at membership in these two caucuses, a third caucus lay lingering in an unaltered state since its inception some five years ago. In the past week, however, the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus has begun to update its website, shed the vestiges of past years, re-register as an official Congressional Member Organization (CMO) and show some sign of activity. If the Labor Caucus does take active form in the 111th Congress, it will be occupying a different niche than the Populist Caucus. Populist Caucus Chair Bruce Braley seems to utter the phrase “middle class” in interviews about his caucus more often than the word “and,” suggesting an emphasis on white collar workers and middle-income earners. The Labor Caucus, on the other hand, orients itself firmly toward the issues of the working class and labor unions:

The purpose of the Congressional Labor and Working Families Caucus is to protect workers rights and American families by developing and implementing a pro-labor agenda in the United States Congress. The Caucus will also provide information and educate Members of Congress on issues that impact labor and working families.

Is a working-class agenda incompatible with a middle-class agenda, or can the Populist and Labor Caucuses be allied in some way? And does the membership of the Labor Caucus fit snugly within the Progressive Caucus, or does it draw from those outside the Progressive Caucus as well? For one indication, let’s take a new look at the membership overlaps between all three caucuses. We’ll use a Venn Diagram of overlapping circles to represent them:

Progressive Scores for Overlapping Members of the Progressive Caucus, Labor Caucus and Populist Caucus in the 111th Congress, Represented by Venn Diagram

Although it has been inactive for most of its organizational life, the Labor Caucus is the largest of the three caucuses, claiming nearly a quarter of all members of the House of Representatives. A majority of its members are not in either the Populist Caucus (new and small) or the Progressive Caucus (embracing a more expansive agenda). By a small margin, the Labor Caucus claims the lowest average Progressive Action Score, with that average dragged down by members like Lincoln Davis, who earns just 20% on his progressive scorecard. But a number of members of the Labor Caucus are also quite progressive, and members of the Progressive Caucus to boot. Maurice Hinchey, Raul Grijalva and Jan Schakowsky are prime examples. The average Progressive Action Score of those Representatives who are members of both the Progressive and Labor Caucus is 47%, higher than the average score of those who are only members of just one caucus.

Significant portions of the Progressive and Populist caucuses are also made up of members who belong to just one caucus; no one of these caucuses can be simply conflated with another. As you can see from notations in the Venn diagram shown above, every combination of joint membership is associated with higher average progressive action scores than membership in one caucus alone. Each appears to be a somewhat related, somewhat independent, additive contributor to progressivism in the House of Representatives.

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