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“We just don’t at this point in time how wide the middle is,” the Democrat said. “It may be narrower than it was before. I don’t know. It may be wider. With the new folks coming in, they will have to get their sea legs and see how they fit in on issues and how they fit into their caucus.”

For now, both parties’ leaders are trying to stake out their legislative agendas.

GOP leaders have vowed to repeal President Obama’s health care overhaul, cut upward of $100 billion from the federal budget and permanently extend the Bush-era tax cuts, which are now set to expire at the end of 2012.

Democrats have pledged to defend their legislative achievements, including the health care package, and push proposals aimed at lowering unemployment and improving the economy.

Both parties have pledged to tackle the national debt, which recently rose past $14 trillion, and are gearing up for a tough battle over whether to raise the debt ceiling beyond $14.3 trillion this year.

“If Republicans decide to say, ‘We are going to refuse en masse to the debt ceiling expansion, unless we get something,’ you won’t see these [GOP centrists] going off and saying, ‘We will vote for the debt extension without getting anything,’” Mr. Tanner said. “Now depending on what is dangled, [GOP centrists] may be quicker to join onto the compromise. They may only demand a half-pound of flesh, rather than a pound of flesh.”

The shift of focus to spending could spell trouble on the Democratic side of the aisle, where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, will need to deal with lawmakers from more conservative states on spending and budget issues.

“Democrats are actually going to have a couple of questions. You are going to have Manchin and Nelson, which I think are more likely to vote with Republicans more than any Republican is likely to vote with Democrats,” Mr. Tanner said.