POLITICS
04/24/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Progressives Launch Campaign Targeting Centrist Senate Dems

A coalition of progressive groups and officials announced the launch of a media and grassroots campaign Tuesday to target conservative Democrats they deem obstructionist.

The impetus of the campaign was a recent move by some Democrats, led by Sen. Evan Bayh, to form a working group that would ostensibly move the president's agenda in a more conservative direction. Calling their work -- particularly the preemptive call to not consider major legislative reforms in the budget reconciliation process -- "very bad politics and very bad policy," Robert Borosage, the co-director of the Campaign for America's Future, said that the Senate group was obstructing the president's agenda.

"We have been pretty unhappy to see many conservative Democrats, new Democrats, Blue Dogs, etc., suggesting that they are beginning to have doubts about the president's program and are ready to move against it," he said.

"Major change has come through the reconciliation process because it is the process that allows you to have a majority vote on your program," he added. "Giving that away preemptively reduces your ability to negotiate on these programs and suggests that we will have policies that will have majority support in the House and the Senate but fail in its passage because" because of Republican filibuster.

The Obama administration has itself said it would prefer not to use the reconciliation process -- which requires 51 votes for passage, instead of the filibuster-proof 60 -- to pass major legislative reforms. That would seem to align with what some Senate grey-beards and centrists have urged. But Borosage stressed that the president would not "want to take off the table," the threat of using the process "before negotiations began on the substance of the bill."

As part of their campaign, Borosage, USAction president William McNary, and Firedoglake.com founder Jane Hamsher promised to launch a major media effort and active blogosphere outreach. The group had not been in touch with Democratic leadership in Congress or the White House.

Part of the goal, Hamsher noted, would be to illuminate schisms between this "centrist" coalition and public opinion and reveal instances in which the group was pushing the agenda of special interests.

The difficulty of targeting moderate Democrats, of course, is that some of these lawmakers represent more conservative constituencies. What resonates in Vermont, for instance, could be anathema in Indiana. Asked about this dynamic, Borosage said that the political prism was not so black and white.

"This notion that people have conservatives in their states with a set of views," he said, "it is simply wrong. It is wrong about where people are and the majority can be forged. Senator Bayh, for instance, has spoken aggressively about the need for government to tighten its belt ... that is simply wrongheaded ... We are losing 100,000 of jobs a month ... We need the federal government to be doing more, not less."

Asked, later, if he was concerned that such a campaign would endanger the reelection efforts of these moderate Democrats, Borosage replied: "I fail to see how educating constituents about the votes from the members on major issues facing this country will endanger their election."