Blue Dog comeback?

"Blue Dog comeback?" Continued...

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

Shuler sets himself apart from the majority in that he is one of about 16 Democrats in the House who have consistent voting records on issues most would consider pro-life. During the last session of Congress, in addition to his vote against Planned Parenthood funding, he voted to halt expanding research to more embryonic stem-cell lines. Shuler said Pelosi told him he was allowed to vote "with his heart," although it meant his vote was among those that put Democrats shy of veto-proof passage on several bills last session. Pelosi doesn't often let her caucus fall out of rank, but Shuler says she understands that the moderates also elected her to a leadership position, and that if she veers too far left she will lose that support.

This year, the House could face a vote on the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would overturn restrictions on abortion nationwide. Each time the bill has surfaced for a vote, it has been buried again in committee, even in a Democratic Congress. But President-elect Obama said at one point last year that FOCA would be his first executive order, a way of bypassing votes in Congress. However, the tone Obama has struck during transition suggests he may not proceed with the controversial measure right away.

During the political hustle before the North Carolina primary in May 2008, Shuler recalled sitting at Biltmore Baptist Church in Asheville, N.C., with former President Bill Clinton. Baptist Pastor Jim Henry spoke of a church program to help single moms. "There's your answer to abortion," Clinton said, according to Shuler.

"People are pro-choice because there's no other outlet," Shuler said, saying that women need more options as an alternative to abortion, like help with childcare and employment.

Shuler doesn't feel alienated from his party by his pro-life values. He believes that Democrats show more compassion for Americans throughout their lives, like in health care, if not before they are born. Republicans in Congress, he believes, use abortion as a political tool. "The Republicans had every opportunity to make the changes they wanted to on abortion," he said, referring to when the GOP held the majority. "They chose not to because it's the ace in the hole. That's not right." But he adds, "The Democrats, the same too, there's issues that they use."

Even while they enjoy a wider majority, the Democratic leadership's work this Congress will be corralling key votes in a fractious House, and Blue Dogs could be a powerful voting bloc. The House has 257 Democrats and 178 Republicans. While Pelosi won't worry about attaining a veto-proof majority with Obama in the White House, she may have difficulty passing certain bills if the Blue Dogs withdraw their support.

The key to advancing conservative values under a Democratic majority in the House is for Republicans to join forces with Blue Dog Democrats, forming their own conservative majority, Newt Gingrich wrote in a Wall Street Journal op-ed in 2006. "We didn't see that last session," Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, said before the new session began. "We'll see how it shakes out."

Blue Dogs in the last session voted with the Democratic majority on most spending bills, with the bailout votes as the exception. "I hope they will have more of a role," said Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who argues that Democrats in the last Congress let their "pay-as-you-go" plan to avoid deficit spending slip.

As factions form within the Democratic majority in both the House and the Senate, Democratic leadership is finding that it will be tricky to pass the $775 billion economic stimulus bill because of demands from all sides-with House Blue Dogs, for example, insisting on no pork barrel spending or pet projects, and Senate Democrats wanting to add their own pet projects and questioning the size of tax cuts to be offered. Shuler predicts that the push and pull will make this Congress a moderate one, though more spending is on the horizon. Moderation will depend on the actions of conservative Democrats like him.

Blue Dog voting record

HR 3043: An amendment to deny federal­funding to Planned Parenthood

Failed. Democrats voted nay; Blue Dogs: 21% yea, 75% nay, 4% didn't vote

HR 1424: Financial bailout

Passed. Democrats voted YEA; Blue Dogs: 64% yea ,36% nay

HR 3997: Original financial bailout

Failed. Democrats voted yea; Blue Dogs: 53% yea, 47% nay

HR 7321: Auto bailout

Passed. Democrats voted yea; Blue Dogs: 75% yea, 21% nay, 4% didn't vote

HR 976: SCHIP funding(children's health insurance)

Failed to acquire 2/3 vote to overcome Bush veto.

Democrats voted yea; Blue Dogs: 96% yea, 4% nay

To see if your representative is part of the Blue Dog Coalition, go to www.house.gov/ross/BlueDogs.

Emily Belz
Emily Belz

Emily, who has covered everything from political infighting to pet salons for The Indianapolis Star, The Hill, and the New York Daily News, reports for WORLD Magazine from New York City. Follow Emily on Twitter @emlybelz.


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