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NJ Daily

Don’t Call Them Moderates, but Centrist Republicans Are Emerging in the House

Charlie Dent: “We have an affirmative obligation to govern.” (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

photo of Billy House
February 11, 2013

Much has been written about the hard-line House Republicans who have been making life tough for Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. But what about the collection of GOP colleagues who have stuck by his side, even when many in their own party are voting the other way?

These House Republicans are flexing swing-vote influence that some critics complain is way out of proportion to their numbers, emerging—with the help of Democrats—as a more-centrist political counterweight to the 150 or so House GOP hard-liners.

They range anywhere from 25 to 50 lawmakers altogether, don’t recognize themselves as a single organized caucus, and are a mix of Old Bull members and younger Republicans. Yet, on two occasions in recent weeks, their votes—alongside Democrats and against the bulk of the GOP—provided the winning margins. One was the New Year’s vote on the fiscal-cliff bill, opposed by both Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif. Another was the House’s passage of nearly $51 billion in Hurricane Sandy relief.


Now, fiscal conservatives complain that this group, in conjunction with House Democrats, could play a role in deciding the fate of other major spending issues that Congress will soon address, including the upcoming automatic sequester cuts and a bill to keep government funded for the remainder of the fiscal year.

“That’s how I see it—a center-left coalition is forming in the House,” said Ron Meyer, a spokesman for the conservative group American Majority Action.

Meyer depicts some of these members as “outliers in their own party.” But far from powerless, he said, they could continue to vote as a bloc with Democrats and undercut whatever the majority of the GOP Conference wants. Meyer also worries that Boehner won’t mind using this coalition to do so.

There was no immediate comment from either Boehner’s or McCarthy’s office.

Pinning down this group’s actual membership—or even identifying members under one umbrella—can be difficult, in part because of the political climate. In some Republican circles, for example, being labeled as a moderate can now be problematic. Yet one segment met last week in the basement of the U.S. Capitol for the reorganizational meeting of the “Tuesday Group,” a gathering of fiscal conservatives who are traditionally more moderate than many of their GOP counterparts on social issues.

About 20 GOP lawmakers attended the initial meeting, during which they elected three cochairs: Reps. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, and Erik Paulsen of Minnesota.

Dent is among the 85 Republicans who joined with 172 Democrats on New Year’s to pass the fiscal-cliff deal, and he was among the 49 Republicans who joined with 192 Democrats to pass the Sandy relief bill on Jan. 15. He also voted with a majority of his Republican colleagues in passing a bill Jan. 23 to extend the debt ceiling (33 Republicans opposed it).

Fewer than 29 Republicans voted for all three of those bills. Others included Appropriations Committee Chairman Harold Rogers of Kentucky; Defense Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Bill Young of Florida (the longest-serving Republican member of the House); Agriculture Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma; Armed Services Chairman Buck McKeon of California; Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma; and newer Reps. Richard Hanna and Tom Reed of New York and Jon Runyan of New Jersey. Not all are part of the Tuesday Group, although Hanna, Reed, and Runyan all attended last week’s meeting.

For his part, Dent laughs at the notion that he would be among those referred to by Meyer as an “outlier” in his own party. Still, he is sensitive enough to prefer the term “center-right” to “moderate” as a description for himself and others in the Tuesday Group.

But Dent said that, for him and some others in the group, there is an understanding that working with all parties to find solutions to the nation’s debt and spending issues is an important task.

“We have an affirmative obligation to govern,” he said.

Still, Dent, like Hanna, seemed surprised to learn that he was among fewer than 30 Republicans to have voted for all three bills. Hanna said his lack of realization shows how hard it is to pigeonhole GOP swing voters.

Former Rep. Steve LaTourette of Ohio, who is now president of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a group focused on electing moderate Republicans, said the moderate coalition that has been coming together includes members of his group, the Tuesday Group, and part of “Team Boehner,” an informal group of close allies and lieutenants to which he once belonged.

LaTourette said some Republicans who did not vote for the recent bills have privately thanked these members who did. He suggested that they understood the importance of passage even though “they wanted to be able to go back home and say, ‘I voted no.’ ” He said that is putting some of these moderates “in a horrible position,” but that many of them are willing to take the risks.

Last week, LaTourette and Dent unveiled a new white paper, “From Fiscal Cliff to Fiscal Tsunami,” advocating a compromise approach on fiscal issues. “Compromise is not a capitulation of principle,” the paper says.

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