Sunday, February 8, 2009

Moderate Gang on Capitol Hill?

David Brooks of The New York Times suggests that moderates from both parties are forming an emerging gang to shape the economic stimulus that may lead to a form of post-partisan government.

Forty-nine moderate Democrats in the House belatedly signed a letter calling for cuts in the package, and protested the way they had been trampled by the Democratic leadership. Over in the Senate, a gang of roughly 20 moderates, led by Republican Susan Collins and Democrat Ben Nelson, huddled in the Dirksen Building to cut and focus the stimulus bill. They talked of trimming $90 billion or more.

The big news here is that there are many Democrats who don’t want to move in a conventional liberal direction and there some Republicans willing to work with them to create a functioning center. These moderates — who are not a party, but a gang — seemed willing to seize control of legislation from the party leaders. They separated themselves from both the left and right.

Obama didn’t plan them. He didn’t create them. He isn’t yet leading them. But the gangs could be the big new fact in domestic politics. If nurtured and used creatively, they can be the lever by which Obama transforms the landscape of government and creates a broad postpartisan coalition.

One issue I have with Brooks' argument is that any incumbent Republican on Capitol Hill has some nerve voicing worries about future budget deficits after doubling the existing one during the Bush years with big tax cuts for the wealthy while fighting two foreign wars. I also have a problem with GOP pressure to throw out spending on infrastructure and aid to the states in favor of more tax cuts when most economists are dubious about their stimulative effect. Endless repetition of their tax cut mantra only demonstrates the degree to which the Republicans are out of ideas.

However, both are somewhat more acceptable if the overall result is a pragmatic bipartisan center that produces meaningful legislation rather than the usual partisan posturing.

--Ballard Burgher

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