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Blue dogs hunt

"Blue dogs hunt" Continued...

Issue: "Faith-based campaigning," Jan. 27, 2007

The November 2006 election put a twin spotlight on the Blue Dogs' role. The first reason was that the Blue Dog Coalition once more was successful at the polls, scoring wins resulting in nine more congressional seats. (By some calculations, Bob Casey's victory over Sen. Rick Santorum in Pennsylvania was a similar win on the Senate side-but not many observers consider Casey much of a conservative on issues other than abortion).

The second reason for the spotlight on the Blue Dogs is the added leverage they've gained in a newly Democratic Congress. The 45 votes they represent, or any significant chunk of the 45, have become a big bargaining chip not just with the Democratic leadership, but also with the minority Republicans who will constantly look for ways to siphon them off on specific issues.

By its own public statements, the Blue Dog Coalition is more focused on fiscal than on social issues. "We want to be known," says Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas, "for relentlessly pursuing a balanced budget and then for protecting that achievement from politically popular 'raids' on that budget." If for a generation that was the trademark mantra of Republicans, the 2006 election indicated that any such claim is now up for grabs by either party-or coalition within a party-that can put together a convincing argument. Republicans right now, tattooed with an almost indelible reputation for fiscal profligacy, may have the trickier task.

As for social issues, it would be hard for the Blue Dogs to make any parallel conservative claims-even if they wanted to. Out of 45 members in the coalition, only nine (a 20 percent minority) voted earlier this month against the expansion of federal funding for embryonic stem-cell research. Since at least seven other Blue Dog Democrats used their official websites to feature their support for the increased funding, skeptics must ask: Is there really any pattern here-or is being a Blue Dog just a matter of packaging?

Indeed, little on their own official Blue Dog website suggests any allegiance to socially conservative issues. Blue Dog loyalists tend to oppose gun control (house.gov/ross/BlueDogs/bluedogs.shtml and soon to be bluedogdems.com). A fleeting allusion to "compassionate conservatism" gives way immediately to more vigorous language on the need for a balanced budget and debt avoidance. Blue Dogs are almost universal in their opposition to any form of privatizing Social Security. The website lists 21 press releases "showing Blue Dogs at work" over the last 24 months; all 21 relate to fiscal issues.

Only one Blue Dog-Louisiana's Charles Melancon-used his website to call himself "pro-life" and "pro-family," even stressing that he believed marriage should be "between one man and one woman." But Melancon voted on Jan. 11 for more funding for embryonic stem-cell research.

Among the nine Blue Dogs voting against their party on that issue were four congressional freshmen: Joe Donnelly and Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, Heath Shuler of North Carolina, and Charlie Wilson of Ohio.

And on all four of the other substantive issues facing the 110th Congress during its opening sessions, all 45 members of the rebel Blue Dogs walked in lock-step with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic leadership.

That may not matter at all to Tom Johnson, the arthritic diabetic. Or to the fellow in the Harvard sweatshirt. Or to all those who look to their congressmen mostly to solve important but personal issues. Constituent service is constituent service.

But constituent service isn't where the Blue Dog Democrats got their reputation. And so far in this session, their rebel bark has been more provocative than their bite.

Blue Dog 12-point plan for budget reform

  • Require a balanced budget.
  • Don't let Congress buy on credit.
  • Put a lid on spending.
  • Require agencies to put their fiscal houses in order.
  • Make Congress tell taxpayers how much they're spending.
  • Set aside a rainy-day fund.
  • Don't hide votes to raise the debt limit.
  • Justify spending for pet projects.
  • Ensure that Congress read the bills it's voting on.
  • Require honest cost estimates for every bill Congress votes on.
  • Make sure new bills fit the budget.
  • Make Congress do a better job of keeping tabs on government programs.
Joel Belz
Joel Belz

Joel, WORLD's founder, writes a regular column for the magazine and contributes commentaries for The World and Everything in It. He is also the author of Consider These Things.

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