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The Blue Dogs
With Democrats likely to pick up 30-32 House seats after all the counting, recounting, canvassing and run-offs are completed, Election Day was very good to the liberal wing of the House Democratic Caucus, which will see many of its members assume committee chairmanships. Less well noticed was the fact that Election Day was also very good for the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, the self-styled fiscally conservative, ideologically moderate wing of the Democratic Party.
Thirty-five of the coalition’s 37 members from the 109th Congress will be returning in January. An estimated nine new Democratic members are expected to officially become Blue Dogs after taking the congressional oath of office. With a membership of 44, the Blue Dog Coalition would comprise about 19 percent of the projected 232-to-234-member House Democratic Caucus, marginally higher than its composition of a significantly smaller Democratic caucus (202 members) in the 109th. Under the assumption that Nancy Pelosi will make good on her threat to block Blue Dog Democrat Jane Harman of California from becoming the chairman of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, Minnesota Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson is the only Blue Dog scheduled to chair a House committee (Agriculture) in the 110th Congress. Blue Dogs, it appears, will have to make Mrs. Pelosi see red by exerting their voting power on the House floor. How do they stack up against the House’s other members?
Americans for Democratic Action (ADA), the nation’s pre-eminent liberal organization, reported that House Democrats averaged a vote rating of 90.7 percent for the 20 crucial votes selected by ADA in 2005, the latest year available. Republicans averaged 7.8 percent. Blue Dogs came in at 77.8 percent. For 2004, Democrats averaged 85 percent; Republicans averaged 10.5 percent; and the 30 Blue Dogs in 2004 who would return in 2005 as members of the 109th Congress averaged 76.5 percent.
Here is what a review of key votes in recent years revealed about the voting practices of the 35 Blue Dogs who won re-election to the 110th Congress.
Twenty-six of the 35 returning Blue Dogs comprised more than 40 percent of the 64 Democrats who joined 219 Republicans in September in passing legislation (283-138) supporting the construction of a 700-mile fence along the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border.
Twenty-two Blue Dogs comprised more than two-thirds of the 32 Democrats who voted in September with 218 Republicans to pass (250-170) the bill granting President Bush the authority to try suspected terrorists before military tribunals.
Also in September, 13 returning Blue Dogs (14 including the departing Harold Ford of Tennessee) comprised the vast majority of the 18 Democrats who joined 214 Republicans to pass (232-191) the House version of a bill that would authorize nearly all of President Bush’s “terrorist surveillance program” involving warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Agency.
When Congress re-authorized the Patriot Act in March, Blue Dogs made up nearly half (29, including the two departing dogs) of the 66 House Democrats who supported the bill, which passed 280-138.
When the House voted to approve offshore drilling for oil and gas (232-187) in June and oil and gas exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (225-201) in May, returning Blue Dogs played important roles, contributing 19 of the 40 Democratic votes for the offshore bill and a decisive 13 of the 27 Democratic votes for ANWR.
Blue Dogs distinguish themselves in fiscal policy by decrying deficit spending and objecting to passing tax cuts that are not “paid for” in accordance with the PAYGO rules, which Republicans allowed to lapse in 2002. PAYGO (short for “pay as you go”) rules provided strong incentives for Congress to “pay for” tax cuts or increases in entitlement programs (such as Medicare) by cutting other entitlement spending or raising other tax revenues. Here is a snapshot of their fiscal record.
Not a single Blue Dog voted for the modest fiscal 2006 budget reconciliation bill passed in the House in February. The legislation reduced the growth of mandatory (i.e., entitlement) programs by less than $40 billion over five years. This “reduced” spending amounted to less than three-tenths of 1 percent of projected federal spending for the period.
Concerned about large federal budget deficits, the Blue Dogs might have objected to the 2006 reconciliation bill’s $70 billion in tax cuts over five years. But the majority (17 out of 30) of Blue Dogs who would return to Congress after the 2004 elections apparently were not concerned about the nation’s long-term fiscal health when they voted for the Democratic version of the Medicare prescription-drug plan in June 2003. The Democratic bill carried a projected cost of $800 billion over 10 years, twice the estimate of the Republican version. The Treasury Department’s “Fiscal 2005 Financial Report of the United States Government” — that’s the report for which Blue Dog Jim Cooper of Tennessee recently wrote a forward and then had published as a book — revealed that the Republican Medicare drug plan (the one that Congress passed) had generated a 75-year unfunded liability with a present value of $8.7 trillion (page 42). One can only gasp at the size of the unfunded liability that the Blue Dog-supported Democratic Medicare drug bill would have generated.
By John R. Bolton
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