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Congress's pragmatic newcomers

Capitol Hill freshmen promise practicality over party loyalty.

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From time to time, a freshman class in Congress leaves its mark on Capitol Hill. There were the reform-minded Watergate babies of 1974. More recently came the GOP insurgent "citizen legislators" of '94.

Now, the class of '06, too, has been elected on a surge of voter discontent, and although the new class isn't as big as those two, it has the potential to leave its own stamp.

If interviews with incoming freshmen are any indication, that mark will be pragmatism first, even at the expense of party loyalty, and a get-things-done sensibility.

This pragmatic tone is good news for moderates in both parties, who have been marginalized in the past few Congresses.

Rising again is the Blue Dog Coalition, which moderate Democrats formed in 1994 to steer their party back to an agenda of fiscal restraint and national security after they lost control of the House of Representatives.

"It's the largest freshman class the Blue Dogs ever had," says Eric Wortman, a spokesman for the coalition.

The group is also likely to wield more power in the new Congress. "With 44 votes, we'll have a voice in what comes to the floor and, if not, in what passes," says Rep. Mike Ross (D) of Arkansas, communications director for the Blue Dog Coalition and a third-term lawmaker.

"We're going to do our part to govern from the middle. The message [voters] sent is that they want us to put an end to partisan bickering and get something done for the American people," he adds. "The freshmen seem to fit in very well.... They get the issues."

Changing winds in Washington

With the Democratic edge in both the House and Senate still relatively small, the new class is set to play a pivotal role on issues ranging from fiscal discipline to ending the war in Iraq.

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