The group also is taking center stage on deficit reduction, where Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), a member of the moderate group, is leading the “Gang of Six” talks aimed at reaching a long-term budget deal slashing the deficit by $4 trillion over the next decade.
“The glue that holds the moderates together is a desire to be fiscally responsible,” Udall said. “Most of us have been governors or businesspeople. We know what it takes to meet a payroll.”
He added: “We were really the reason why we had a deficit commission.”
Now they want to see much of that commission’s work translated into a bipartisan deficit deal.
And Udall said Democratic leadership appears to be responding to the need for cuts. “The leadership knows we’ve entered a new era. Deficits do matter, unlike what Dick Cheney said.”
That said, the Democratic moderates have been united against the $61 billion in cuts in the continuing resolution that passed the House as excessive and poorly targeted. They have urged a longer-term approach that would cut trillions of dollars from the deficit over the coming decade but delay most of the cuts until the unemployment rate drops.
“Their bill is a jobs killer,” Udall said, adding that the discussion has to shift from the domestic discretionary accounts to the much larger spending elsewhere.
“We can’t do things overnight to get us out of this fix,” Hagan said. “As a moderate, we need to speak, we need to speak loudly and clearly that we need to continue to invest in education, in infrastructure and research and development.”
The moderates want to see Obama take a leadership role on a long-term deficit-cutting package.
Udall said Obama should set a deadline and goal for reaching a long-term debt deal. “I’d like to see the president speak to the nation,” he said. “I think the country is ready for it.”
The group also is pushing hard for education reform, with Hagan and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), another member of the group, leading 11 moderate Democrats in signing on Wednesday to a statement of principles for overhauling the No Child Left Behind law.
Education reform appears ripe for a bipartisan deal but has been delayed for years by a host of ideological flash points that the moderates are hoping to bypass.
Carper said at an event announcing the new principles with Education Secretary Arne Duncan that Duncan’s message of reducing federal mandates while improving accountability has an appeal across party lines and that the issue doesn’t fit neatly into the liberal versus conservative divide.
“It can’t be a Democratic idea, it’s got to be a bipartisan movement, and I think we are hitting a crisis mode in this country,” Hagan said.