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The Seeds of a Moderate Movement Must Be Nurtured

Real Clear Politics

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

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If America is to save itself from political chaos, “the best” had better get busy — not by sounding off and then leaving the scene, as Sens. Bob Corker and Jeff Flake and others are doing, but by helping out groups that are trying to bolster the “centre.” As I’ve written before, a bevy of groups are working to hold the center — organizing nationally, raising money and setting forth moderate policy ideas. Several have made significant progress, but they still need help.

They need consistent vocal support from respected ex-military, corporate, and government heavyweights who recognize current divisions as dangerous not just to the country’s governance, but to national security and social stability — but so far are standing on the sidelines. They need money to compete with passionately intense ideological and special interest groups. And they need to become national political players.

In short, America needs a powerful, passionate Moderate Movement comprised of “the best” — those willing to solve problems, work with adversaries and encourage civility — to compete with the already-passionate and powerful “worst.”

Currently active centrists fit into three categories: Groups such as No Labels, the Bipartisan Policy Center, and The New Center are trying to bring Republicans and Democrats together to address national problems including economic growth, income inequality, immigration, health care, infrastructure and national security.

Another set, including the Centrist ProjectLevel the Playing Fieldthe Centrist Party, the Serve America Movement have given up on the two-party “duopoly” and want to develop third alternatives. The third are political reform groups like Issue OneFair Vote, the Campaign Legal Center, and, which want to limit the influence of big money in politics, enhance disclosure, combat gerrymandering, make voting easier and change election laws to give centrists a fighting chance in elections.

In the first category, the oldest, most accomplished, best-financed and heavyweight-heavy is the Bipartisan Policy Center, founded 10 years ago by former Senate leaders George Mitchell, Bob Dole, Tom Daschle, and Howard Baker, plus energy expert Jason Grumet, still the group’s president. It has a 90-member staff of researchers and lobbyists, a $24 million annual budget, a board including former CEOs of Lockheed-Martin, MetLife, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, plus former Sen. Olympia Snowe, former Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros and former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating.

Its various task forces and commissions include nine former senators, six former House members, 10 ex-governors, 12 former Cabinet secretaries and six former federal agency chiefs. Grumet rejects the label “centrist,” claiming BPC’s mission is to bring “passionate partisans” together to hammer out policy proposals with a chance of passing Congress, then lobbying intensively for them. Its ideological range runs from former Republican Sen. Rick Santorum, a Pennsylvania conservative, to former Rep. George Miller, a liberal Californian.

It has had some successes, including, in 2016, elements of the 20th Century Cures Act that expanded medical research funding and the Toxic Substance Control Act; the 2015 highway bill; reauthorization of the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and the compromise omnibus appropriations bill that kept the government funded. In 2011, it provided data that helped GOP leaders persuade their right-wing colleagues to pass a debt ceiling bill and prevent the U.S. from defaulting on its debts.

This year, it’s working on an utterly sensible trade-off between legal status for DACA immigrants and border security, adequate funding for energy research in Congress’s impending budget battle, data once again to raise the debt ceiling, a public-private infrastructure plan and a bill combining an early childhood tax credit and paid family leave.

One problem, though, is that R’s and D’s keep moving farther apart each year, making successful diplomacy more difficult. So, the 2015 reauthorization of health care for poor children is now in danger of expiring.

BPC operates with information and persuasion. It isn’t well-known outside Washington, avoiding credit so legislators get it. It has no national membership to bring pressure on Congress and no money to buy ads or help elect or defeat legislators to bolster its power. Although its policy orientation is definitely centrist, it’s not going to be the command center of a Moderate Movement.