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Congress Is Losing Leaders and Unifiers

Stenholm went into the election at a severe disadvantage after a Republican redistricting plan threw him into a heavily GOP district, and Republicans cited the proposed tax increases to challenge Stenholm's conservative credentials and hammered him on abortion and same-sex marriage.

"I was painted as someone with no values, even though I'm pro-life and believe marriage should be between a man and woman," Stenholm recalled bitterly this week. "Yet, because I'm a Democrat, I was painted as someone I wasn't."

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Stenholm's biggest regret? That he won't be around when Congress tries to "fix" Social Security.

Dunn, 63, a onetime IBM systems engineer and Washington state GOP chairman, was closely allied with former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who helped her win a plum assignment to the Ways and Means Committee after the GOP takeover in 1994. She worked on the child support provisions of the welfare bill and pushed for medical savings accounts in the 1996 health care bill. She and Democrat Frost co-sponsored the Amber Alert legislation to encourage immediate response to reports of missing children.

Dunn aspired to be the first female House majority leader, but she faltered in her challenge to then-Majority Leader Richard K. Armey (R-Tex.) in 1998. Last January, following her marriage to a British-born businessman, Dunn announced that she was retiring from politics and would seek a new career. "It is time for me to move on," she wrote in a letter to supporters.

With the retirement of Breaux after 14 years in the House and 18 years in the Senate, Congress is losing one of its premier dealmakers, who worked assiduously with Republican as well as Democratic centrists to forge compromises on many of the top domestic issues of the day, including Social Security, Medicare and budget priorities.

Breaux, 60, said in an interview he feels he played a major role in passage of the Medicare drug benefit bill and tax legislation to increase investment incentives. But he was disappointed at inaction on Social Security. He was proud, he said, of the role he played with several Republicans, including the late Sen. John H. Chafee (R.I.) and now Sen. Olympia J. Snowe (Maine) in forming a centrist coalition within the Senate.

There are others to continue the work, including Democratic Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.), Breaux said. But he worries about what he described as a "shift away from the center" in both houses of Congress.

Breaux plans to remain in Washington and enter the private sector, possibly as a lobbyist and consultant. He said he and Nickles have talked about a joint business venture.

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