GOP Moderates Want Voice

Planning to exploit their increased leverage in the House Republican Conference, party moderates will demand greater representation in leadership and a key voice in shaping legislation, two leading moderates said today.

"We want to be at the table, setting the agenda, establishing the priorities," Rep. Marge Roukema, R-N.J., told CongressDaily. Although moderates overall did not fare particularly well in Tuesday's elections, they still can exert more power because of the narrower margin in the House, said Rep. Michael Castle, R-Del. Castle estimated moderates lost as many as eight seats, but Democratic gains cut the overall GOP margin of majority in half. "We'll probably be greater players than we were last year," he said.

Roukema and Castle agreed the moderates' top goal is to have an effect on legislation long before it comes to the floor. "They always came to us later to bail them out ... This time, we want to be there at the beginning," Roukema said.

Too many bills were sent to the floor "fait accompli" during the 104th Congress with little or no feedback from moderates or other factions, Castle said. "We just feel there needs to be a better screening process before we get into trouble on the floor," he said. Roukema warned if the leadership does not make legislative accommodations, moderates are willing to abandon them on key floor votes.

The moderates will also demand inclusion in leadership structures, such as House Speaker Gingrich's small advisory group which often makes key decisions, Roukema said. "Why not? We aren't a majority without us. We have to have one or two people [in the advisory group]," Roukema said.

Castle said moderates are not under any illusion of getting one of their own into a leadership position, but said he expects they will at least have the ear of top Republicans. "I think the goal is to get a broadening of the structure of the leadership," he said. The GOP moderates -- known as the "Lunch Bunch" -- have been informally represented by Rep. David Hobson, R-Ohio, but Roukema said they were "neglected" by leadership until the end of the session.

With the budget likely to be the top priority next year, moderates will demand to be part of crafting and negotiating the legislation, Roukema said, contending that in the 104th Congress, the exclusion of the moderates led to avoidable political pitfalls. "We moderates have to be at the table, setting the agenda, so we don't get Mediscared and school lunched," she said.

Members of the group plan to meet Tuesday to begin drawing up a list of "specific demands" for leadership representation and to start crafting legislative priorities, Roukema said. Moderates must be included in crafting legislation because GOP leaders still do not acknowledge the gender gap, Roukema said, emphasizing issues she believes contributed to women voting disproportionately for Democrats -- such as crime, the environment, education, Medicare and Medicaid.

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