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September 26, 2017

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Fewer moderates in new US Congress makes crossing partisan divide harder

WASHINGTON -- When the next Congress convenes in January, there will be more women, many new faces and 11 fewer tea party-backed conservative House Republicans from the class of 2010 who lost their bid for a second term.

Overriding those changes, though, is a thinning of pragmatic, centrist veterans in both parties. Among those leaving are some of the Senate's most pragmatic lawmakers, nearly half the House's centrist Blue Dog Democrats and several moderate House Republicans.

That could leave the parties more polarized even as President Barack Obama and congressional leaders talk up the cooperation needed to tackle complex, vexing problems such as curbing deficits, revamping tax laws and culling savings from Medicare, which provides health care coverage for the elderly, and other costly, popular programs.

"This movement away from the center, at a time when issues have to be resolved from the middle, makes it much more difficult to find solutions to major problems," said William Hoagland, senior vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center, a private group advocating compromise.

In the Senate, moderate Scott Brown lost in Massachusetts to Democrat Elizabeth Warren, who will be one of the most liberal members. Another Republican moderate, Richard Lugar of Indiana, fell in the primary election. Two others, Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas and Olympia Snowe of Maine, are retiring.

Moderate Democratic senators such as Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Herb Kohl of Wisconsin, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, and James Webb of Virginia are leaving, as is Democratic-leaning independent Joe Lieberman of Connecticut.

While about half the incoming 12 Senate freshmen of both parties are moderates, new arrivals include tea party Republican Ted Cruz of Texas, conservative Deb Fischer of Nebraska, and liberals such as Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Hawaii's Mazie Hirono.

There's a similar pattern in the House, where 10 of the 24 moderate Democratic Blue Dogs lost, are retiring or, in the case of Rep. Joe Donnelly of Indiana are moving to the Senate. That will further slash a centrist group that just a few years ago had more than 50 members, though some new freshmen might join.

Among Republicans, moderates like Reps. Judy Biggert of Illinois and New Hampshire's Charles Bass were defeated while others such as Reps. Jerry Lewis of California and Steven LaTourette of Ohio decided to retire.

Whether the changes are good is often in the eye of the beholder.

Seventy-one of the 83 House Republican freshmen of 2010 were re-elected on Nov. 6, but 11 lost, including one of the group's highest profile members, conservative Rep. Allen West of Florida. Another faces a runoff in December. The Republicans' success in 2010 was fueled by the conservative tea party movement which supports limited government, deep cuts in government spending and more tax cuts.

Overall, the new House is on track for a 234-201 Republican majority, a narrowing of their 242-193 advantage today, which includes five vacancies. Democrats will control the Senate 55-45, up from 53-47.

A dozen of the 100 senators and at least 81 of the 435 House members, almost one-fifth, will be in their first term, slightly above historic averages. The Associated Press hasn't declared winners in two House races.

All together, there will be 73 women in the House and 20 in the Senate. Both are records.

For the first time, more than half of House Democrats — 105, in this case — will not be white males.

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