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Building Bridges on Capitol Hill

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By Evan Bayh, Tom Carper and Blanche Lincoln
Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Last week, the three of us announced the formation of a moderate Democratic working group in the U.S. Senate.

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Even though the White House and Senate leadership praised the group's formation, some commentators reacted by reporting signs of a rift and a power struggle within the Democratic Party. Others accused the 16 members of our group of trying to obstruct the president's agenda.

We understand the Beltway impulse to emphasize conflict and the blogosphere's concern that Democrats stick together. But as the group's founders, we feel compelled to set the record straight.

We formed our working group because we recognize both the difficulty and the urgency of accomplishing a huge and ambitious agenda. We must act quickly and decisively to repair our financial markets and start to turn the economy around. In addition, we believe that President Obama is correct when he says that we cannot afford to wait any longer to fix health care and transition to a clean-energy economy.

These are titanic and complicated tasks, and we believe that many worthwhile policy solutions can be found in the practical center -- ideas that also have the benefit of appealing to vast segments of the American electorate. Unfortunately, the Republican leadership has basically decided to stay on the sidelines to let the Democrats carry the load of reform alone.

As moderate leaders, it is not our intent to water down the president's agenda. We intend to strengthen and sustain it. Moderation is not a mathematical process of finding the center for its own sake. Practical solutions are practical because they offer our best chance to make a difference in people's lives today without forcing our children to pick up the tab tomorrow.

The stakes are too high for Democrats to fear a policy debate. Such debates produce better legislation. On nearly all important votes, a supermajority of 60 senators will be needed to pass legislation. Without Democratic moderates working to find common ground with reasonable Republicans, the president's agenda could well be filibustered into oblivion.

Beyond the chessboard of the Senate, nearly half of the U.S. electorate calls itself moderate, and more than half of the rest identify themselves as conservative. That means Democrats could capture every liberal vote and half of the moderates and still lose at the polls. Many independents voted for President Obama and the contours of his change agenda, but they will not rubber-stamp it. They are wary of ideological solutions and are overwhelmingly pragmatic. Many of them live in our states and in the states of the other senators who have joined our group.

To represent them, the three of us will seek to pursue a set of core principles. First, we want to help shape and pass a far-reaching agenda to address America's most urgent domestic problems. Second, we seek to promote ideas that spur long-term, private-sector economic growth. Third, we will pursue fiscally responsible solutions to put our debt-ridden nation on a sustainable path that protects and strengthens the American middle class.

In all of these areas, we share a bond with President Obama as well as with the House and Senate Democratic leadership. That is not to say that we will always agree on every detail of their agendas, but we do agree that our role is to be constructive, not obstructive. We plan to be a positive force in our caucus, exemplified by the constructive role a number of us played in making reasonable adjustments to garner the GOP votes needed to pass the president's economic recovery package.

In 1993, the three of us, as much younger politicians, stood with great expectations as the last Democratic president was sworn in with big plans, a head of steam and a Democratic Congress ready to begin a new progressive era. In less than two years, it all came crashing down, with disillusioned moderate voters handing the GOP broad congressional victories in 1994.

The moment has arrived again for our party to lead. Our group hopes to work constructively with members on both sides of the aisle to make the big changes that America needs today and tomorrow. We believe that is the best way to help our president and our nation rise to the moment and meet the enormous challenges before us.

Evan Bayh (Ind.), Tom Carper (Del.) and Blanche Lincoln (Ark.) are Democratic members of the U.S. Senate.


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