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A resurgence of 'moderate' Republicans in D.C. and Lansing

The center strikes back. We are seeing a resurgence in the power of moderate Republicans in D.C. and Lansing.

‘Repeal and Replace’ Gets Pulled

It wasn’t just the Freedom Caucus that killed the repeal-and-replace plan in Congress last week.

It was also a group of Republican centrists calling themselves the “Tuesday Group.” They said there were elements of Obamacare they weren’t willing to give up and they allied themselves with Republican governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Michigan’s own Rick Snyder.

Kasich and Snyder are two Republicans who have said Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion is helping states tame Medicaid costs and the expense of hospitals’ uncompensated care. 

We are seeing the same practical politics in state houses all over the country where Republicans are in control.

At the State Capitol

There’s a dozen or more members of the state House Republican caucus in Lansing who say they’re more practical than political when it comes to taxes and budgets. This so-called Gang of 12 just last month tanked efforts by House Republican leaders to roll back the state income tax rate. They were worried that Republican leaders couldn’t, or wouldn’t, say where they’d cut the budget to pay for the tax cut.

That experience together solidified the alliance. The GOP members now talk on a weekly basis about how to apply their principles to policy debates.

The ‘Sensible Center”

Now, let’s be clear, we’re not talking about your grandfather’s moderates.

These are conservatives by just about any measure. Gone are the days when the most conservative Democrats were more conservative than the most liberal Republicans, and the most liberal Republicans were more liberal than the most conservative Democrats. The parties have sorted themselves out so conservatives are with the Republicans and liberals with the Democrats.

But there are still differences within those coalitions on how to accomplish their goals.

What seems to be an emerging reality is the resurgence of what was once called the “sensible center” - policymakers who say accomplishing a goal is more important than making an ideological gesture.

Tax Cuts

But that’s not signaling an end to hardball politics.

Lansing’s Gang of 12 Republicans aren’t saying they’re opposed to an income tax rollback. They’re saying there’s a responsibility to say what would be cut to pay for it.

So, look for House Republicans to craft a budget plan this year with big cuts to justify a tax rollback. And that is worrying the “usual suspects” when it comes to state budget cuts: public universities, local governments’ revenue sharing payments, and human services.

And even if those reductions don’t make the final version of the new state budget, they would still serve a purpose. And that is for some Republicans to show their voters that even if they couldn’t accomplish a tax cut, here’s how they would have.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Public's Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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