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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Blue Dog Democrats

Strange name, wouldn’t you say? So what’s behind it, and why is the Democratic leadership so anxious to court this particular political group? Who are these people?

The Democratic Blue Dog Coalition (usually referred to as the “Blue Dog Democrats”) have gone through an evolution of names, particularly over the last thirty-odd years. Georgia’s governor, Jimmy Carter, won the presidential nomination in 1976. He’s a real son of the South, to be sure. But not all the Southern Democrats on Capitol Hill appreciated or agreed with his policies which were right out of the liberal playbook. This group of congressmen may or may not be liberal in their views on social issues, but they are definitely very conservative when it comes to fiscal matters – like the budget and the growing debt. Since Congress holds the purse strings for the government, this loose coalition of congressmen wields a considerable amount of power.

When Ronald Reagan won the presidency in 1980, a considerable number of these Blue Dog Democrats (called “Dixiecrats” and “Bo Weevils” back then) and their constituency voted for him even though he was a Republican. Why did they do that? Because they believed the financial troubles our nation faced trumped party affiliation. The Blue Dogs generally work to promote positions within the House of Representatives that bridge the gap between “Center right” and “Left-wing” politics. Blue Dogs are considered to be an important “swing vote” on spending bills and as a result have gained influence in Congress out of proportion to their numbers. They are frequently sought after to broker compromises between the Democratic and Republican leadership, generally lending a more conservative character to US politics. This is why you see President Obama and Speaker Pelosi, among others, having separate meetings with the Blue Dogs. In fact, it is primarily because of the Blue Dogs that the current Health Care Bill before Congress is facing stiff opposition.

So who are these folks? Are they all from the South?

Let me offer a list for you of those who are part of this political group serving in the House of Representatives: Jason Altmire (PA-4), Mike Arcuri (NY-24), Joe Baca (CA-43), John Barrow (GA-12), Melissa Bean (IL-8), Marion Berry (AR-1), Sanford Bishop (GA-2), Dan Boren (OK-2), Leonard Boswell (IA-3), Allen Boyd (FL-2), Bobby Bright (AL-2), Dennis Cardoza (CA-18), Christopher Carney (PA-10), Ben Chandler (KY-6), Travis Childers (MS-1), Jim Cooper (TN-5), Jim Costa (CA-20), Henry Cuellar (TX-28), Kathy Dahlkemper (PA-3), Lincoln Davis (TN-4), Joe Donnelly (IN-2), Brad Ellsworth (IN-8), Gabrielle Giffords (AZ-8), Bart Gordon (TN-6), Parker Griffith (AL-5), Jane Harman (CA-36), Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL Co-Chair for Administration), Baron Hill (IN-9 Co-Chair for Policy), Tim Holden (PA-17), Frank Kratovil (MD-1), Jim Marshall (GA-8), Jim Matheson (UT-2), Mike McIntyre (NC-7), Charlie Melancon (LA-3 Co-Chair for Communications), Mike Michaud (ME-2), Walt Minnick (ID-1), Dennis Moore, (KS-3), Patrick Murphy (PA-8), Glenn Nye (VA-2), Collin Peterson (MN-7), Earl Pomeroy (ND-AL), Mike Ross (AR-4), John Salazar (CO-3), Loretta Sanchez (CA-47), Adam Schiff (CA-29), David Scott (GA-13), Heath Shuler (NC-11 Blue Dog Whip), Zack Space (OH-18), John Tanner (TN-8), Gene Taylor (MS-4), Mike Thompson (CA-1), and Charlie Wilson (OH-6).

The only stated policy position of the Blue Dogs is fiscal conservatism. However, they lean strongly in support of national defense as well.

So as you watch the House of Representatives wrestle over the Health Care Initiative, understand that the Republicans are the minority party at this time, and that includes the Senate where the Democrats have a filibuster-proof majority. So if legislation is going to be blocked in either the House or the Senate, a lot of Democrats (read: Blue Dogs) will have to vote against their own party. This is no small task. The way inside politics works in DC is if you’re a good boy or girl for your party, the party big-wigs will support the legislation you want passed for your district or state. Otherwise, you get the cold shoulder, and you will have a dickens of a time being effective for your constituency – which means you probably will not be re-elected. That’s pressure, my friends.

We elected our representatives to go to Washington to represent us. We have high expectations that they will stand upon principle and not cave to their colleagues or special interest groups. There is a certain gamesmanship in Washington politics, which can be brutal. Ask your representatives to stand for what is right – to remain principled. But remember, when they do, you and the rest of your fellow voters in your district have a responsibility to support and re-elect that person.

The Blue Dogs may very well play a deciding roll in this Health Care Bill. Watch and see where your representative stands on this. They are all coming home for summer break, so if you do not like the position they have taken, go to their office and let them know.

Believe it or not, they do listen to you!

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