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‘We Used to Be Called Moderate. We Are Not Moderate.’

January 27, 2023 -- Early this summer, the federal government will, in all likelihood, exhaust the “extraordinary measures” it is now employing to keep paying the nation’s bills. As the country careens toward that fiscal abyss, Congress will face a now-familiar stalemate: Republicans will refuse to raise the debt ceiling unless Democrats agree to cut spending. Democrats will balk. Markets will slide—perhaps precipitously—and the economy will swiftly turn south.

When that moment arrives, the most important people in Washington won’t be those who work in the White House, or even the party leaders who occupy the Capitol’s most palatial offices. They will be the House Republicans who sit closest to the political center: the so-called moderates. The GOP’s majority is narrow enough that any five Republicans could dash Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s plan to demand a ransom for the debt ceiling. They will have to decide whether to stand with him or join with Democrats to avert a first-ever default on the nation’s debt.


Two years ago, Bacon picked up the discarded flag of a dormant GOP group called the Main Street Caucus. The caucus is the House extension of the Republican Main Street Partnership, a political organization founded 25 years ago by then-Representative Amo Houghton of New York. The original Main Street Partnership was explicitly, and proudly, moderate; Houghton called himself a “militant moderate,” and the group’s aim was to “serve as a voice for centrist Republicans,” as well as to soften the GOP’s harsh rhetoric and policies on abortion, gay rights, and the environment, among other issues.

The Partnership remains active—it spent $25 million in support of Republican candidates last year... "We used to be called moderate. We are not moderate,” says Sarah Chamberlain, the Partnership’s CEO and a former aide to Houghton (who retired from Congress in 2004 and died in 2020). Its members now identify as “pragmatic conservatives.” “The entity from day one has the same name, but it looks very different,” Chamberlain told me.


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