Copyright 1999 The National Journal, Inc.
The National Journal
October 23, 1999
SECTION: CONGRESS; Pg. 3060; Vol. 31, No. 43
LENGTH: 1569 words
In the House, a Squishy Middle No More
years ago, Republican moderates in the House were
known as the ''Lunch
Bunch'' because they routinely met over a
noon meal. Apparently fearing that
no group with that name would
be taken seriously, they soon became the
''Tuesday Group.'' The
only problem: They don't always meet on Tuesday.
But these days, no one's laughing at the ''Wednesday
Group,'' or whatever the approximately 40 House GOP moderates are
calling themselves. They have tipped the balance on a variety of
high-profile issues in recent months, and are poised to continue
so as leaders look to wrap up this legislative session.
During the summer, the Republican moderates temporarily
cut legislation until their leaders agreed to add
debt reduction provisions.
This fall, the moderates confounded
their conservative colleagues by voting
with Democrats to pass
bipartisan legislation in the House on patients'
campaign finance reform. Now, Republican moderates are helping to
shape minimum-wage legislation--an issue that Speaker J. Dennis
R-Ill., conceded back in March would probably come to a
House vote this year
because of the moderates' persistence. Through it all, the
message of the moderate Republicans
has been clear: Although they were
willing before to roll over
for the good of the party, or simply to keep the
machine humming, they're not going to be pushovers any longer.
The moderates are well-positioned to hold
sway over the final appropriations measures, many of which
include programs that Democrats, the Clinton Administration, and
GOP moderates, list as high priorities. ''The moderates are
going to play a
disproportionately influential role in how this
plays out,'' said moderate
Rep. Sherwood L. Boehlert, R-N.Y.
cautioned that House GOP leaders need
to be wary of the moderates' concerns.
''It's almost impossible
for them (the leaders) to control the issues,''
said a former
aide to a House GOP conservative lawmaker. ''It's a problem,
But it's one that's not going to go away. So they better figure
how to manage them.''
It wasn't always like this.
When Republicans took control
of the House in 1995, their majority was large
enough that losing
a few Northeastern moderate members on key votes did not
Back then, the moderates would often rattle their swords when
they were unhappy with legislation, but they would eventually
and vote with Republican leaders, who would make appeals
for party loyalty.
Now, given the House GOP's four-vote majority, the
moderates hold significant power. ''With the majority as it is,
moderates are more important than the left wing or the right
one House Republican.
The importance of the
moderates was evident in the recent
debate on patients' rights legislation.
Their support for the
bipartisan measure pushed by Reps. Charlie Norwood,
John D. Dingell, D-Mich., lent the bill the momentum it needed to
pass on Oct. 7, despite last-ditch attempts by Hastert to salvage
control. ''In the last 24 hours, (Republican leaders) tried to
a deal on the Patients' Bill of Rights,'' said moderate
Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J. ''That's ridiculous.''
Republican leaders are trying a different tactic on
supported by moderates to increase the minimum
wage, an issue that the House
is expected to debate in short
order. The leaders asked one of the
moderates, Rep. Rick A.
Lazio, R-N.Y., to develop a bill that packages
breaks that many GOP members favor with a minimum-wage
GOP leaders ''know they can't control
legislation) from coming to the floor, so they're trying to
it more palatable,'' said the former House Republican aide. A key
conservative lawmaker said that the tradeoff is essential. ''Will
tax cuts in exchange for the minimum wage?'' asked Rep.
Tom Coburn, R-Okla.
''Yes, or we won't get minimum wage.''
leaders' efforts on the minimum-wage issue
are successful remains to be
seen. This week, some middle-of-the-
road Republicans questioned whether the
Lazio proposal was strong
enough; they said that the three-year phase-in of
the $ 1 per-hour
wage increase was too slow. That left Republican leaders
counting votes to determine how far the moderates could push the
Whatever the outcome on the minimum-wage
moderates are clearly enjoying their new power. ''The good
is that the moderates are swaying public policy,'' said Boehlert,
who disputed any notion that Democrats are controlling the
''Democrats are voting with us. We are the majority.''
But the fact remains that on several issues, the
moderates are voting
with Democrats, a development that leaves
Roukema uneasy. She said that GOP
leaders should have done more
earlier this year to bring together the
various wings of the
House Republican Conference. ''I'd like to control the
the start,'' Roukema said. ''I don't like letting the Democrats
take over the turf. Yes, it's uncomfortable, but in my district,
a Republican approach.''
For several years,
conservative House Democrats have
urged moderate Republicans--without much
success--to work with
them routinely and in a more organized manner, noted
W. Stenholm of Texas, a key member of the Blue Dog Coalition of
moderate Democrats. ''The right-of-center is where the action
Stenholm said. ''We've been trying to point that out for
The rise of the moderates, however, has clearly made
of their fellow House Republicans uncomfortable. Conservative
David McIntosh, R-Ind., maintained that the recent moves by
have upset the conservative GOP base. ''It works in
McIntosh said of the moderates. ''I can tell
you it doesn't work in the
Midwest. People want to know what
happened to the Republican majority. I
think the moderates have
the responsibility not to risk our majority. I
But other Republicans
said that conservatives must
understand that times have changed since 1995,
when they could
control the agenda. ''They need to do a better job of
that they can't prevent these bills from passing, so they need to
work on making them as conservative as possible,'' said the
to a House conservative.
The moderates' case has
been bolstered somewhat by the
''compassionate conservatism'' of Texas Gov.
George W. Bush, the
front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination,
recently questioned whether congressional GOP leaders are
spending too much time pushing a conservative economic agenda.
embarrassed House conservatives several weeks ago when he
said that their
proposed changes to the Earned Income Tax Credit
would balance the budget on
the backs of the poor.
Going into the closing days
of this session, moderates
are expected to continue to push for social
spending and fiscal
restraint, while GOP leaders merely will try not to give
President Clinton all the money he wants.
major battleground is the appropriations bill covering
the Labor, Health and
Human Services, and Education departments.
The funding levels for programs
in that bill will have to be
sufficiently high if Clinton is to support it.
Such a bill
probably will lose conservative Republican votes, so the
appropriators will have to depend on a combination of moderate
Republicans and Democrats for passage. For months, House GOP
have been unable to put together a Labor-HHS bill that
can accomplish that
goal and not bust the budget.
''Do I wish there were
more Republican moderates in the
Congress and the (Republican) Conference?''
asked House Labor-HHS
Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Edward
Boehlert said that
the moderates will insist on adequate
spending for Labor-HHS programs.
''We're damn sure not going to
stand by while there are cuts in . . .
programs that are vital,''
he said. At the same time, some moderates are not
with budget gimmicks that Republicans are using to boost
spending. ''There are a number of us who are going to refuse to
smoke-and-mirrors games,'' said Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.
Conservatives and some Republican leaders are pushing for
across-the-board cut in spending to pay for increases in the
Republican moderates are split over that
proposal. Boehlert said he does not
like treating all federal
programs equally, but other moderates, such as
Rep. Michael N.
Castle, R-Del., say they see nothing wrong with the plan.
How the budget battle ultimately plays out is not
But with conservatives pushing to hold the line on spending, and
Democrats and moderate Republicans calling for spending boosts in
programs, the answer likely falls somewhere in the middle.
center can control the agenda,'' Stenholm said.
LOAD-DATE: October 25, 1999