Bayh rolls out "Moderate Dems Working Group": Does it matter?

Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana announced plans in December to form an equivalent of the Blue Dog caucus in the Senate. Today his office rolled out the Moderate Dems Working Group:

WASHINGTON - A diverse group of 15 Senate Democrats today announced the formation of a new moderate coalition that will meet regularly to shape public policy. The group's goal is to work with the Senate leadership and the new administration to craft common-sense solutions to urgent national problems.

The Moderate Dems Working Group will meet every other Tuesday before the Democratic Caucus lunch to discuss legislative strategies and ideas. The Moderate Dems held their second meeting Tuesday to focus on the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate.

Leading the new group are Democratic Senators Evan Bayh of Indiana, Tom Carper of Delaware and Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas. Both Senators Bayh and Carper were successful governors before coming to the Senate. Senators Lincoln and Carper bring bicameral experience to the group as former members of the House of Representatives. All three leaders are honorary co-chairs of Third Way, a progressive Democratic policy group, and Senators Bayh and Carper have led the centrist Democratic Leadership Council.

At the working group meeting, Senator Bayh acknowledged that such a large group was unlikely to agree on all major issues before the Senate. Yet the Moderate Dems are joined by a shared commitment to pursue pragmatic, fiscally sustainable policies across a range of issues, such as deficit containment, health care reform, the housing crisis, educational reform, energy policy and climate change.

In addition to Senators Bayh, Carper and Lincoln, others joining the group are Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, Claire McCaskill of Missouri, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Bill Nelson of Florida, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, and Mark Warner of Virginia.

A few things jumped out at me:

15 members is a quarter of the Democratic Senate caucus. That's proportionally larger than the Blue Dog caucus in the House.

Look how many first-term senators have joined up with Bayh: McCaskill from the class of 2006 and Udall, Begich, Hagan, Shaheen and Warner from the class of 2008.

Of the Moderate Dems, only Bennet, Lincoln and Bayh are up for re-election in 2010. Lincoln and Bayh are not expected to face tough challenges.  

Of the Moderate Dems, only Lincoln, Landrieu, Begich and Ben Nelson represent states carried by John McCain. Why did the others rush to join a caucus that (based on Bayh's record) will try to water down President Barack Obama's agenda?

Back in December Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh's agenda:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can't really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there's no reason it couldn't work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Bayh's press release includes a ludicrous quote from Harry Reid:

Of the working group's formation, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said, "If we are going to deliver the change Americans demanded and move our country forward, it will require the courage to get past our political differences and get to work. Established organizations like Third Way and new ventures like this group offer us a new opportunity to get things done, and I support every effort that puts real solutions above political posturing."

Raise your hand if you believe that Bayh's group is going to offer "a new opportunity to get things done."

The only good I can imagine coming of Bayh's venture is if the group gives some political cover to Democratic senators representing red or purple states, making it harder for Republicans to tie them to liberal bogeymen.

This optimistic scenario would pan out only if the Moderate Dems do not consistently vote as a bloc with Bayh. Earlier this month, David Waldman/Kagro X analyzed some Senate votes in which Bayh supported Republican amendments. If you click that link you'll see that various senators named in today's press release did not vote with the Bayh/Republican position.

For that reason, Waldman greeted today's news with a big yawn and doesn't seem worried that the Moderate Dems will do anything other than help Bayh show off how "moderate" he is.

The Russians say one should "hope for the best but prepare for the worst." As a Democrat who wants President Obama to succeed, I hope Waldman is right and the "Moderate Dems" are just using Bayh to bolster their "centrist" image.

On the other hand, if Bayh's group develops along the path envisioned by Yglesias, which I consider more likely, then Democrats really should prepare for the worst in 2010. The severe recession may make next year a tough environment for the president's party to begin with. If Democrats carrying water for corporate interests sink "the change we need," Democratic base turnout could drop significantly, as it did in 1994. Most of the Moderate Dems Working Group members will not face the voters until 2012 and 2014, but their obstruction could harm many other Congressional Democrats.

Tags: Ben Nelson, Bill Nelson, Blanche Lincoln, Blue Dogs, Claire McCaskill, Congress, Evan Bayh, Herb Kohl, Jeanne Shaheen, Joe Lieberman, Kay Hagan, Mark Begich, Mark Udall, mark warner, Mary Landrieu, michael bennet, Moderate Dems Working Group, Senate, Tom Carper (all tags)



How is this going to work

when members like McCaskill, Udall, Begich, Shaheen and Kohl have been, so far, strong allies of the President. Are they going to, all of a sudden, turn into his opposiiton?

Or is this a marketing ploy to win votes in their respective states?

by DTOzone 2009-03-18 07:30PM | 0 recs
let's hope it's just a marketing ploy

I don't see the upside for those senators in helping Bayh obstruct Obama's agenda. I do see a potential upside in advertising their membership in something called the "Moderate Dems."

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-18 07:32PM | 0 recs
Moderate meaning more left wing than Obama?

It would be hard to be more right wing than Obama on quite a few issues and still be a Dem.

by architek 2009-03-18 08:23PM | 0 recs
Well we are a very conservative country

you said so yourself

by DTOzone 2009-03-18 08:26PM | 0 recs
Re: Bayh rolls out "Moderate De

Wow.. Wasn't Mark Warner supposed to be a Progressive... Because I could SWEAR I remember a certain blogger known for a litany of wrong predictions in 2008 saying he was a progressive.

by 30000Fine 2009-03-18 07:32PM | 0 recs
can you provide a link?

Because my recollection is that Jerome didn't depict Warner as a progressive--everyone knows Warner is a moderate. My memory is that Jerome supported Warner because his success in a red state demonstrated that his brand of politics could realign this country. I could be wrong, so please provide a link if I am.

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-19 03:12AM | 0 recs
Ok, NOW I remember why I retched

When folks suggested Bayh as a VP candidate.

Besides being the biggest cheerleader for the war he's just a damn dino!

by WashStateBlue 2009-03-18 07:48PM | 0 recs
Bayh would have been a terrible VP

We dodged a bullet on that one.

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-19 03:06AM | 0 recs
Re: Bayh would have been a terrible VP

Since Obama is his own man and isn't ceding the powers of the presidency to the veep, wouldn't Bayh have actually been in a better place (locked up in a closet in the EOB) as veep than he is showing up on TV undermining the President?

by howie14 2009-03-19 05:46AM | 0 recs
I disagree

If Bayh were the VP he would have a leg up in the 2016 presidential race, and he would have more influence over the administration's policies.

Also, we never know what tomorrow brings (look what just happened to Natasha Richardson). I don't want Evan Bayh anywhere in the line of succession for the presidency--ever.

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-19 08:33AM | 0 recs
Re: Bayh

Isn't Bayh a deficit hawk? Could it be that this is what this is about?

by Charles Lemos 2009-03-18 08:06PM | 0 recs
self-styled deficit hawk

By which I mean the kind of deficit hawk who will use that as a reason not to support universal health care (for instance) but didn't mind handing blank checks to Bush on Iraq War funding and supported the ridiculously expensive, accountability-free Wall Street bailout.

Bayh's press release indicates that fiscal responsibility is a big deal for this group, but if they turn out to be like the House Blue Dogs they will be more concerned with corporate interests than with fiscal responsibility.

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-19 03:08AM | 0 recs
Re: self-styled deficit hawk

Exactly. I dont think Bayh is as much about being a TRUE deficit hawk as going along with conventional wisdom in DC about what is wasteful and what is not. As you say, he did little to curb spending under Bush. If we look at his record, he has gone along with wrong decisions all the way. It was these pragmatic democrats that have got us into this mess in the first place.

Just as people are rightfully outraged at the AIG fiasco, they need to be more outraged at the outrageous war profiteering that has gone on for years. Where was Bayh's voice then? Does he find it easier to rail against social programs for powerless people than massive war profiteering for corporations on the taxpayer dime?

by Pravin 2009-03-19 07:33AM | 0 recs
That nails it...


Just like the Republicans, all of a sudden Evan is against all this spending.

But when it was Bush, he was all lovey-dovey...

He was not only silent on spending on Iraq, I think he was a cheerleader for TAX CUTS during the war.

The guy is a total DINO, Joe Liberman's mirror image.

by WashStateBlue 2009-03-19 08:13AM | 0 recs
Bayh is an idiot

Who the hell cares about these freaking labels. Bayh needs to worry about his work as a senator, not finding a likeminded emotional support group. The idiot has been exposed for his stupidity in the past and now he is trying to act like he and his likeminded Democrats are more sensible than the so called "crazy" dems?

What did Bayh do with the bailout? How come he was fooled so easily on the Iraq war? He was made to look like a total weakling during the Lieberman issue.

Seriously, what has Bayh done in the last 8 years where he saw bad things happening? While the Feingolds have been prescient about certain things, people like Bayh just went along with DC conventional wisdom.  

by Pravin 2009-03-18 08:36PM | 0 recs
I agree on all points

I don't think Bayh has distinguished himself in any way on matters of substance. That said, he has managed to succeed politically in a red state (helped by a good family name), so let's hope this group is all about political posturing and won't affect matters of substance in the Senate.

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-19 03:09AM | 0 recs
Re: Bayh rolls out "Moderate Dems

When the conservative Dems stuck the knife in Clinton the results weren't pretty for anyone.  I don't begrudge these folks their right to carve out a niche, but I hope they've learned something from history.

by Steve M 2009-03-18 08:49PM | 0 recs
Re: Bayh rolls out "Moderate Dems

Many of the Democrats who tried to undermine Clinton lost their seats in 1994.  

by Kent 2009-03-18 10:03PM | 0 recs
I remember Birch Bayh... an actual liberal.  

What happened to the son?

by howie14 2009-03-19 05:48AM | 0 recs
Birch Bayh was a real liberal

Who knows what happened with his son.

by desmoinesdem 2009-03-19 08:34AM | 0 recs


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