WASHINGTON-Capitol Hill has its own version of March Madness: negotiating a budget. Some Democrats in the Senate are upset about provisions like climate-change legislation that may be tacked on, bypassing the regular process. Now some liberal groups are taking these Blue Dog Democrats to task for it.
USAction, a self-described "progressive coalition," announced Tuesday it will be launching campaigns targeting certain Blue Dogs, who the organization's President William McNary labeled "obstructionist" to "change," and "unwitting accomplices" to "special interests." Partnering with Campaign for America's Future, the coalition's leaders believe media efforts and on-the-ground campaigning in these senators' respective states will pressure lawmakers to support the president's budget.
Sen. Evan Bayh, a Democrat targeted by the coalition, announced last week that he and 14 others from his party have formed a caucus to promote fiscal responsibility-a group essentially parallel to the House of Representative's Blue Dogs, who have the same mission (see "Bayh's Blue Dogs"). Bayh was one of three Democrats who voted against the omnibus spending bill that passed just two weeks ago-foreshadowing dissensions within the Democratic Party that now are emerging. Democratic leadership and the White House are using conciliatory language toward the renegade moderates-not the kind of language the liberal groups are using.
"New ventures like this group offer us a new opportunity to get things done and I support every effort that puts real solutions above political posturing," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid in a statement about the Blue Dogs.
Eight Democrats were critical of a legislative maneuver that could allow the budget to pass with what they see as unsavory additions-like a cap-and-trade system that would tax energy companies emitting excessive levels of carbon and pass utility costs on to consumers.
Said Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on Tuesday, "It'll be a no go for me" because of the taxes imposed on the domestic oil and gas industry.
Robert Borosage, director of Campaign for America's Future, said moderate Democrats should be looking out for their own self-interest, in terms of their upcoming bids for reelection, by supporting the president's agenda.
"The president's program and the reforms he's calling for are so popular," he said.
Still, many of the moderate senators have conservative constituents that they go home to and don't want to vote for a bill that substantially grows federal red ink. The liberal groups say senators like Bayh are captive to special interests, not constituents.
Borosage defined special interests as "the oil companies and the coal companies, the insurance companies, the drug companies. . . . Their ox is gored in this budget. They're mobilizing to stop the changes and reforms that we need."
Liberal blogger Jane Hamsher, who is working as part of the media campaign against the Blue Dogs, said Bayh is caving to the special interests of local Indiana banks. But aren't some of those "special interests" also constituents?
"The thing that keeps me up at night is not public backlash on the poor banks," she said.
Congress is working out the details of the budget this week and next. Numbers released last week from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office show that President Obama's budget would increase the national deficit to $9.3 trillion over the next 10 years, a main concern to the Blue Dogs.