* Favors government funding without Obamacare rollback
* Blames shutdown on a few dozen hard-line conservatives
* Cites Republican fear of Tea Party backlash
By Thomas Ferraro
WASHINGTON, Oct 4 (Reuters) - Just hours after the firstU.S. government shutdown in 17 years began at midnight onMonday, Republican Representative Charlie Dent was looking for away to end it.
Dent, 53, of Pennsylvania, is a leader of a "center-right"group of about 50 House Republicans, ranging from conservativesto moderates, who try to get things done in a dividedWashington.
While congressional leaders refused to talk with oneanother, Dent's Republicans reached out to Democrats, creating aline of communication between moderates in both parties who maybe key in ending the shutdown.
"We are looking for a way forward," said Dent, who isalready working with some Democrats on what they consider apossible compromise solution.
Dent was among only a dozen House Republicans to voteagainst a bill to tie government funding to a delay inimplementing a key part of President Barack Obama's signaturehealthcare program, known as Obamacare. The House measure wasrejected by the Democratic-led Senate.
Blaming the shutdown on hardliners, many aligned with theanti-government conservative Tea Party movement, Dent describedhis frustrations with the small faction's oversized influence onthe 232-member House Republican conference.
"What disturbs me most is that there are a few dozen memberswho are trying to drive the agenda at the expense of the 180 to200 others, who I consider the (Republican) Party's governingwing," Dent said, noting the hardliners' obsession with stoppingObamacare.
Dent said in an interview this week he did not know why somany House Republicans followed the Tea Party lead, but said onepossibility was that they did not want to draw its wrath.
The Tea Party has shown in recent years that it cansuccessfully target Republicans they consider not conservativeenough and help defeat them in primaries.
Dent represents a swing district in eastern Pennsylvaniawhere bipartisanship and compromise are valued, he said,although the qualities are increasingly rare in Washington.
Dent said he sympathized with House Speaker John Boehner,who yielded to the far right and agreed to a strategy to try todefund Obamacare, which led to the shutdown.
"He has all sorts of challenges," Dent said of the topRepublican in Congress. "He didn't want a shutdown. But he cameunder pressure from some members who want to control theagenda."
DEMOCRATS SEEK 'REASONABLE REPUBLICANS'
Boehner is expected to face a Tea Party-backed challenger innext year's Republican primary in his Ohio district. At thispoint, his speakership may be threatened if he caves toDemocrats and ignites a revolt within his own ranks.
Dent refused to speculate on why Boehner declined to standup to Republican hardliners.
"But by me speaking up, I think it actually helps thespeaker," Dent said. "It lets him know that there are somepeople in the conference who actually want to govern."
Dent said he had so far escaped the Tea Party's anger,perhaps because he has represented a district for 10 years thatleans Democratic and requires him to reach out to both sides ofthe political aisle.
Dent, whose district voted for both Ronald Reagan and BillClinton for president, opposed Obamacare and Obama's economicstimulus package. But he backed Obama's actions to enddiscrimination against gays in the military and to extend thelandmark Violence Against Women Act.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, a Nevada Democrat seekinga solution to the shutdown, reached out on Wednesday to what hecalled "reasonable Republicans."
"They have to do a gut check, understand who they represent... understand that America is waiting for them to do the rightthing," Reid said.
In recent days, a number of House Republicans have calledfor an unconditional spending bill to reopen the government.
As Dent's Pennsylvania Republican colleague, Patrick Meehan,put it, "I came to Washington to fix government, not shut itdown."
Such talk has drawn attention from the Tea Party Express, an influential group that issued a fundraising appeal onWednesday. It noted with concern that 12 House Republicans "areready to give up Obamacare fight to end government shutdown."
Hours before the shutdown began, Dent argued at a meeting ofHouse Republicans that members should remove demands aboutdefunding Obamacare.
"I think a lot of members agreed with me, and some vocallydid not," Dent said.
On Thursday, Dent and Democratic Representative Ron Kind ofWisconsin, joined by 20 colleagues in both parties, offered abipartisan compromise to end the shutdown and fund thegovernment through March of next year.
Its chances seem dim, but as Dent put it, "Today we aretaking a step to say we can work together for the good of thecountry."
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- government shutdown
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