In the 1990s, Democrats abandoned the label of "liberal," which had been redefined by Republicans and their own centrist wing as code for big-government toadies. To replace it, they embraced the not-yet-politically-tarnished "progressive" title.
Now, some Republicans are trying to shed a different label, one that also has been so transformed by intraparty rivals so as to border on a slur: "moderates." The preferred alternative for those who don't mind bipartisan deals and getting big legislation done: "center-right House Republicans."
Representative Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania was re-elected this week—along with Adam Kinzinger and Bob Dold of Illinois—as co-chairs of the so-called "Tuesday Group." The group, which meets weekly during congressional sessions, now has a membership of at least 50 in the 246-member Republican conference and it's hoping to add more like-minded members in these early weeks of Congress. What defines and unites members of the Tuesday Group? "The members of our group share the same sense of an affirmative obligation to govern and are committed to developing real solutions, building consensus, and achieving results," said Dent. In the old days (last year), that would qualify them as moderates but Dent doesn't think the term fits the bill. "I often describe Tuesday Group as a center-right coalition," he said.
In a Congress where Speaker John Boehner now has a bigger majority, with added members from more-purple areas of the country, the Tuesday Group hopes to play a significant role in a Republican conference that often seems dominated by Tea Party-aligned, conservative hard-liners (although many of them have been trying to shed the Tea Party part of that description).
In the last Congress, the Tuesday Group members helped provide Boehner with key blocs of swing votes that, in combination with Democrats, countered 150 or so conservatives and won passage of such high-profile bills as Hurricane Sandy relief and the Violence Against Women Act re-authorization. Dent said the expanded majority today may open the door for Boehner to pursue more bipartisan collaboration and consensus in other areas. In a recent interview, Dent ticked off such substantive policy topics as transportation funding, trade agreements, and tax reform as ripe areas for negotiation.
Dent has downplayed complaints that the group is helping to create a "center-left" coalition.
“That’s how I see it—a center-left coalition is forming in the House,” said Ron Meyer, a former congressional candidate and one-time spokesman for the conservative group American Majority Action. He predicts such a coalition will have to play a key role in renewing the Homeland Security funding, which conservatives want to use to block President Barack Obama's changes in immigration policy. "It would be disheartening for Boehner to keep relying on a coalition of moderates and Democrats to get things accomplished," Meyer said.
Dold, who was returned to Congress in the November election after losing his seat in 2012, countered in a statement: "Now more than ever, Washington needs leaders who recognize the need the put people ahead of politics and who share a commitment to the the heavy lifting of bipartisan problem solving."
Just don't call them moderates.