U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana announced this morning on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he and 14 other moderate Democratic senators are meeting regularly to discuss ways they can influence the Democratic agenda to be more centrist.
When I first heard this news, my gut reaction was that the 15 Democrats are making waves because they are unhappy about the direction taken by the Obama administration. As Chris Cillizza noted on The Washington Post‘s political blog, The Fix, Bayh is no stranger to critiquing White House decisions:
“I can understand why there is a desire for unanimity,” said Bayh in an interview with The Fix this afternoon. “But a certain amount of policy debate usually leads to better outcomes.”
A quick examination of the early days of the Obama administration reveals that Bayh has backed up that rhetoric with action.
He was one of just three Senate Democrats who voted against the $410 billion omnibus spending bill and he urged President Obama to veto the bill in a high profile op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. (Obama did not.) Bayh also has expressed doubts about the amount of money dedicated to health care reform and climate change in the president’s budget, calling for an emphasis on lowering costs rather than simply spending more.
Bayh later released a statement saying the group will focus on “the upcoming budget negotiations and the importance of passing a fiscally responsible spending plan in the Senate.”
Another member of the centrist coalition, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska, said on MSNBC that he doesn’t consider the group as opposing the president.
“I don’t think you should consider us opposing the president at all,” Begich said. “I think we agree with his priorities when it comes to education and energy and figuring out how to reduce this deficit and making sure we have a good health care plan. It’s to make things happen.
“And now I think some of the press has said, well, this is an opposition to the president. That’s just not accurate. What we are trying to do is — there are more of us now, more moderates from western states and other communities that want to make sure when we put pieces of legislation on the table, that we can move them forward and get them done.
“A great example of that was the stimulus bill,” Begich continued. “It was (Democratic) moderates that came together with moderates from the Republican Party that pushed that to the final moment and getting it passed. It was logjammed up.
“What we are is practical. We want to get things done. But I would not portray us as an opposition at all to the president. What we are is some in the majority who want to get things done, are practical and want to see this country move forward on major issues.”
Actually, I suspect the centrist view is more in line with the president’s approach to governing than the far-left liberalism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her kind. The centrist coalition may be exactly what Obama needs to maintain his reputation for bipartisan approach. For that reason, the president and his administration should welcome the creation of this coalition.