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Senate Moderates Forming New Bloc

Senate Democratic centrists believe the 111th Congress has given them the right ingredients to exercise considerable influence, but they still face an uphill battle in a chamber where such alliances typically fail.

Following its early success in paring down the more than $900 billion economic stimulus bill to $787 billion, a group of 15 to 20 Democratic moderates plans to formally announce next week that it is aligning as a loose coalition or working group focused on deficit reduction and fiscal responsibility. While not identical to the long-established House Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, the group is eyeing a similar role.

Led by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), members said early press reports of their meetings were mischaracterized as an opposition group to President Barack Obama’s agenda and budget. But they acknowledge that they are seeking to restrain the influence of party liberals in the White House and on Capitol Hill.

“We’re not a counterweight to anybody. We’re not here to obstruct anything. We’re here to help get to 60 votes,” Bayh said, referencing the threshold that’s needed to overcome filibusters.

Bayh said the group is made up of “pragmatists ... not ideologues” and is intended to be “a forum to see if we have a consensus approach to getting things done.”

Carper said Members want to be a constructive partner with the White House and Democratic leaders to get important legislation like health care reform and climate change passed.

“The voters of this country have put their trust in the Democratic Party. They want us to govern,” Carper said. “That doesn’t mean they want us to govern too far to the left, just as they didn’t want the Republicans to govern too far to the right.”

Carper said the increased number of moderate Senate Democrats has made it more likely that the new group can succeed in tempering legislation and fostering bipartisanship. Plus, the Senators are better positioned to help the president reach out to Republicans on key issues, Carper said.

“There’s a need for building a bridge, and this is not a bridge to nowhere,” Carper said.

While centrists represented just a handful of seats in the 110th Congress, moderate Democrats saw their ranks swell in the 2008 elections as the party solidified its hold on Congress and took over White House.

At least six of the 11 new Democratic Senators have either attended a meeting or expressed interest in joining. Those six include Sens. Kay Hagan (N.C.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Mark Udall (Colo.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Michael Bennet (Colo.) and Mark Warner (Va.).

“The purpose of these groups is to get things done and move the ball forward on measures that will help get the economy back on track, while also developing a path for fiscal responsibility in the long term. When there’s an opportunity to influence legislation to better meet the needs of middle-class families, Sen. Shaheen will work with like-minded Senators to do so,” Shaheen spokesman Alex Reese said.

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