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Senate Moderates Look for More Influence

Tom Williams/Roll Call
Sen. Tom Carper (right) speaks at a news conference Wednesday at a K-8 public school in Northwest Washington, D.C. Joining him to talk about

The group of moderate Democratic Senators that formed in the last Congress with mixed results has assembled new leadership and an agenda focused on cutting the deficit and overhauling education and energy policy.

Sens. Mark Udall (Colo.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.) have joined Sen. Tom Carper (Del.) as co-chairmen of the moderate Democrats, taking the places of former Sens. Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Evan Bayh (Ind.). Lincoln was defeated and Bayh retired last cycle.

Unlike the fiscally conservative Blue Dogs in the House, the Senate group doesn’t have a colorful name or a political action committee. But it has a broader policy focus and aims to play a key role in bringing the parties and the president together, the trio told Roll Call.

“The moderates can work together and focus on education, the debt and the deficit, and a clean energy standard,” Hagan said. “We’ve got to come together, bring Republicans and Democrats to the table and pass good, common-sense legislation.”

Carper has been pushing President Barack Obama to embrace President Bill Clinton’s strategy of “triangulation” after the 1994 Republican takeover and said the moderate group stands ready to back his efforts to move to the middle.

“Our role is to be a bridge between Democrats and Republicans in the Senate, between the House and the Senate, and with the administration,” Carper said.

And despite the losses of several Members to retirement or defeat, the ranks of the group have actually risen modestly, with 17 Democrats — most of whom are in their first terms — as of Wednesday.

“You’ve got a new group of moderates who are just really excited and energized,” said Jim Kessler, vice president of policy for the moderate Democratic group Third Way. “Mark Udall is somebody who really wants to make a mark and so is Kay Hagan, and they’re not jaded by old battles.” 

All three co-chairmen of the group are honorary co-chairmen of Third Way, which has been pushing a more bipartisan approach.

Most of the moderate Senate group’s work has been behind the scenes, nudging top administration officials and Senate leadership to the center, reaching out to the GOP, and providing a sounding board and support group of sorts to fellow moderates.

Carper said the group doesn’t see itself as a counterweight to leadership, but as a sounding board for them and a group that can help avoid problems on the floor by giving early warnings about trouble points.

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