WASHINGTON -- While the occupant of the White House and the composition of the next Congress are still to be decided, one thing is clear: There will be many fewer moderate politicians here next year.
A potent combination of congressional redistricting, retirements of fed-up lawmakers and campaign spending by special interests is pushing out moderate members of both parties, leaving a shrinking corps of consensus builders.
Middle-of-the-road Democrats, known as Blue Dogs, have been all but eviscerated from the House over the past few elections, and now three who have been in the Republicans' cross hairs for years are fighting uphill battles for re-election.
Among Republicans, Sen. Olympia Snowe of Maine and Rep. Steven LaTourette of Ohio, weary of partisan battles, chose to retire this year, and some, like Rep. Charles Bass of New Hampshire, have found themselves moving away from the center to survive, a technique employed by Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, who found it was too little too late and lost his primary.
"We don't have a Congress anymore, we have a parliament," said Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, one of the last Blue Dogs. "We moderates are an endangered species, but we are also a necessary ingredient for any problem solving."
But Congress is facing so many potentially calamitous tax and budget issues that another theory is brewing: a combination of Democrats, once adverse to changes to entitlements, and senior
"If Republicans think by embracing the Tea Party it is a loser politically," said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, the No. 3 Democrat, "it may strengthen the hands of the mainstream conservatives" to make deals with the 10 or so moderate Democrats in the Senate who are interested in reforming entitlements.
Further, there is an emerging push on the Democratic side toward the center among many Senate candidates who arerunning as pragmatic centrists willing to work with Republicans.
For this to happen, according to moderates from both parties and several congressional experts, the next president will have to make conciliation a top priority.
President Barack Obama's decision early in his presidency to allow the Democratic-controlled Congress to craft legislation like the health care law while he remained at arm's length did not help, members on both sides said.