Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bipartisan Group Tries to Stake out Middle Ground

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Bipartisan Group Tries to Stake out Middle Ground

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- Divided in power as almost never before, Republicans and Democrats in the U.S. Senate are being drawn to what they see as a happy political medium known as the Centrist Coalition.

On the heels of an election that split the Senate 50-50 and moved Texas Gov. George W. Bush to the White House despite his losing the popular vote, a growing number of senators are hearing a message of moderation.

About 30 senators have some tie to the Centrist Coalition, inactive for 14 months but planning to meet weekly next year on legislation that has been unable to survive two years of partisan squabbles.

"There will be differences on the issues, but I think the Centrist Coalition can send important signals on where the middle ground might be," said Sen. Kent Conrad, a North Dakota Democrat who wrote a Dec. 8 coalition letter that 21 senators signed.

Senators in the coalition plan to seek common ground on tax cuts, education funding, prescription drug coverage, health insurance and even campaign finance reform championed by new coalition member Sen. John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, said one challenge for the coalition was to convince Democrats and Republicans not in the group that compromising is not failing.

"There is a connotation that if it's a moderate agenda, it is less an agenda than some people would want," Roberts said. "In other words, settle for less. I don't think that's the case at all. There are a lot of areas where moderate success would be a very big success."

Conrad said he realized that "party loyalty is always a tug," but he said no one was expected to give up their party identity to belong to the coalition.

"They are members of two parties who are willing to reach across party lines to get things accomplished, not just throw bricks across the barricades," Conrad said.

Thirteen Democrats and eight Republicans signed the letter. …

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