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Democratic aides said the new moderate group could influence a whole host of legislation coming up, but that its most lasting influence this year could come on the budget resolution slated for action in the Senate later this month. The budget sets the partys top line domestic spending numbers and sets priorities for legislation including any health care reform, climate change bill or economic recovery measures.
But there are a few clouds on the horizon. Members already say they are not convinced that they will have the force of unanimity on every issue.
Its not monolithic, and not everybody is of the same mindset about everything within the budget. But there are going to be certain areas that I suspect people will band together on subject A or subject B, said Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), who is a prominent member of the group.
Indeed, Nelson said the moderate bloc is modeled after the Blue Dogs, but that the realities of the Senate prevent them from being as organized or unified as the House group, which regularly wins concessions from House Democratic leaders.
Its not as orchestrated and organized as the Blue Dogs on the House side. This is a much more loosely knit group, but I think its a forum for discussion and for advocacy on issues. And thats the purpose its going to serve, Nelson said.
One Democratic Senator, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said any member of a Senate coalition that operates outside of the traditional caucus environment must tread carefully.
Once you decide to be part of a bloc that is completely dislocated from the main caucus interests, youve not only separated yourself, youve also burned a lot of bridges, the Senator said.
However, Bayh said he has kept Senate Democratic leaders fully informed of the groups actions and even called White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel after its first meeting last week. Emanuel was supportive of the group and asked to be invited to any press conference that would formally unveil the alliance, Bayh said.
Other Democrats said the history of centrist coalitions has been murky. Currently, there are two competing bipartisan moderate groups that at times have attendance problems and lack focus.
There have been a lot of these groups in various incarnations over time, but they kind of fizzle out, one senior Senate Democratic aide said.
The aide added that Blue Dogs have more of an incentive to coalesce as a group around specific positions than Senators do. In the Senate, one Member can influence legislation more readily than in the 435-Member House.
Its hard to retain a bloc of people when it comes to bills like spending bills because people are too easily picked off by having other local priorities taken care of, another Senate Democratic aide said.
Indeed, the Senate centrists may be able to claim victory on the stimulus, but their resolve was never tested on a bill that most Democrats were loath to oppose.