Mollycoddling the Moderates

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With a number of major agenda items in the pipeline, will the Senate leadership and outside progressive groups fight the new moderate Democratic caucus in the Senate? Or does the group wield enough power that they’re essentially immune to push back?

You may recall that last week, Evan Bayh paid a visit to Joe Scarborough to announce he would lead a working group of conservative Senate Democrats, modeled in some ways after the Blue Dog caucus in the House. At the time, Bayh joked that three or four of the group’s fifteen members were in the “witness protection program,” too intimidated for some reason or other to publicly align themselves with Bayh et al.

The new coalition could wield tremendous power. Its 15 members comprise just over a quarter of the Democratic caucus, which makes them bigger than the House Blue Dogs whose 49 members make up just under one-fifth of all House Democrats. (And, of course, in the Senate, Democratic votes are more crucial than they are in the House because every major piece of legislation is susceptible to a filibuster).

Many saw the move as the crystallization of the power of Senate moderates, a few of whom famously (or, perhaps, infamously) took control of the stimulus bill and watered it down until it met their approval. At the time, Harry Reid said, “they cannot hold the President of the United States hostage.

But now that several conservative Democrats are aligning to influence legislation on a regular basis, Harry Reid doesn’t seem to care at all. In fact, he contributed a quote to Bayh’s official press release, saying “If we are going to deliver the change Americans demanded and move our country forward, it will require the courage to get past our political differences and get to work,” he said. “New ventures like this group offer us a new opportunity to get things done and I support every effort that puts real solutions above political posturing.”

This may be filtering down through the Democratic establishment where, for the most part, there’s been complete silence about the working group. The notable exception is the Campaign for America’s Future, which has set up an initiative called “Dog the Blue Dogs”, encouraging people to “call conservative Democrats in the House and Senate and tell them to not be lapdogs for the…right who want to obstruct the administration’s common-sense agenda.”

Robert Borosage, co-director for Campaign for America’s Future, says “We pushed early and hard because we were alarmed that Bayh et al were publicly opposing the president a majority vote on health care and energy that could be done under reconciliation. This struck us as much more destructive than simply working hard to amend or change the president’s program. This is empowering the Republican minority that has made obstruction their signature posture.”

The group USAction has joined the Campaign for America’s Future in circulating the “Dog the Blue Dogs” request. I have some calls out to other organizations to see whether or not they’ll be taking an official position, but early signs suggest they will follow Reid’s lead and won’t be particularly vocal opponents of the so-called Moderate Dems Working Group.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com
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