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By Miriam Raftery

February 12, 2009 (Washington, DC) Today, Rep. Bob Filner (D-San Diego) announced that he has joined with 20 other Democratic members of Congress to form the Populist Caucus, the only caucus in Congress devoted solely to addressing middle class economic issues.

“The middle class is the economic engine of America, but too often in Washington, the needs of the middle class are ignored,” said Filner, whose 51st Congressional district includes southern portions of East County as well as the South Bay. “During these tough times, we need a renewed focus on strengthening the middle class and improving the lives of working families. That’s why I’m proud to be a founding member of the Populist Caucus. This group of Democrats will work together to find common ground on policies that create good-paying jobs, make healthcare more affordable for all, and put middle class families first again.”

The move has drawn praise from labor groups as well as from San Diego East County Chamber of Commerce President Mike Cully.

“The platform for this group is economic justice, universal health care, affordable college education, consumer safety, fair trade, and good paying jobs - hard to argue with any of those aspirations from a business perspective,” Cully told East County Magazine. “Looking over the initial membership of this caucus, I think we can expect some good stuff from it in the weeks and months ahead on the bailout, on regulation and on trade issues.”

The Populist Caucus is made up of members from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences. 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.

Founding members include: Reps. Bruce Braley (D-IA), Chair; Michael Arcuri (D-NY), Vice-Chair; Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Vice-Chair; Betty Sutton (D-OH), Vice-Chair; 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 Kagen (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).

“The caucus seems like a good group, ranging from members from the most liberal wing of the party to those who are closely affiliated with unions, to those who simply run in conservative districts on populist economic themes,” Cully observed. If this group can develop in to something that bends legislative process to their wills, then it will be a huge asset for Democrats in Congress,” he concluded. “ In short ‘a good move’ and looking forward to seeing a coordinated pushback against the financial institutions (banks) and their shenanigans at taxpayer expense.”