Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Evan Bayh leads new caucus of 15 moderate Senate Democrats

Indiana Senator Evan Bayh tells MSNBC about the new moderate caucus

This is a big deal, even if it can't compete with so many other newsworthy political developments for coverage today.

A couple of weeks ago amidst the debate over President Obama's $3.6 trillion budget proposal, Indiana's Senator Evan Bayh, who is well known as a moderate or centrist Democrat, pulled together a group of like-minded Democrats to put some brakes on Obama's expansive budget and spending plans. Today, Bayh announced that the group of 15 had formalized a new caucus in the Senate which he called "moderate, for lack of a better term" or "the practical caucus."

With Democrats still two votes short of controlling the 60 votes in the Senate needed to overcome filibusters and push legislation to a final vote, the center of gravity in the upper chamber is literally in the center – with those lawmakers most willing to cross the aisle holding inordinate power these days.

On the Republican side, Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Olympia J. Snowe and Senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, have already formed an informal coalition working together, and with Democrats, to pass the economic stimulus bill.

Now, in a move to formalize centrist operations on the Democratic side, Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, have organized a coalition of 15 lawmakers that they say will work “to craft common-sense solutions to urgent national problems.”

The other members of the new caucus are: Mark Begich of Alaska, Michael Bennet of Colorado, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, Mark Warner of Virginia, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, and independent Democrat Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut.

Politico reports that there is growing uneasiness among Congressional Democrats about Obama's multiple ambitious proposals that extends beyond this this centrist group:

There is rising doubt among Democrats — particularly moderates already concerned about the big costs and deficits called for in Obama’s budget — that either Obama or Washington have enough bandwidth this year to stimulate the economy, overhaul the failed financial sector and move on to a far-reaching domestic agenda.

To the extent that the new caucus of 15 can find common ground with the three GOP moderates and, depending on the issue, draw some support from among another dozen or so pragmatically minded Republicans and Democrats, they will constitute the core of any 60-vote majority on any issue. As such, they can wield enormous power, obliging the Obama Administration and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to accommodate them.

Of course, they are in many ways a disparate group and won't pull together on many issues. But on the most crucial budget and tax questions, they are likely to work closely and will have a major impact on legislation. This is a welcome development. Now that the White House and both Houses of Congress are controlled by Democrats, only contending forces among Democrats can provide any check on runaway power.

What's your opinion about this? Post a comment.


  1. Claire MacCaskill is a bit of a surprise, don't you think?

  2. Not so surprising. She represents a purple swing state after all.