The Blue Dog: An Endangered Species

When you walk around the halls of Congress, especially on the House side, you see two kinds of displays outside members’ offices. Outside some, mostly those of anti-war Democrats, you will find a chart of all those killed in Iraq. Outside others — the offices of the so-called Blue Dogs — you will find a deficit chart, letting you know your portion of the national debt.

By posting the debt chart, the Blue Dogs are signaling their concern and indicating their strong opposition to the national debt. It is a political stunt meant to show moderation to their voters — many of whom wouldn’t vote for Nancy Pelosi for dogcatcher. The so-called Blue Dogs like to think of themselves as Republican-lite. They come from mostly Southern and Western districts. They usually speak with a little bit of a drawl. They listen to country music. They are much more Sam Rayburn and much less Tip O’Neill, although Tip would have appreciated their mostly pro-life stances.

The Blue Dogs have had fun with those debt signs over the last 10 years, because they could give the formerly fiscally responsible Republicans a hard time about their wicked-spending ways. If only we were in charge, they would say in the last Congress, we would balance the budget.

Guess what? The Democrats are now in charge, and the Blue Dogs are certainly not the tail that is wagging the Big Dog. Instead of balancing the budget, the Democrats have made the Blue Dogs vote on an agenda filled with higher spending and higher taxes.

For example, the Democrats on Wednesday will make the Blue Dogs vote on the State Children’s Health Insurance Program expansion. This sounds good to the average person. Who could be against children’s health insurance? Well, tobacco farmers are one group, because a huge increase in tobacco taxes is how the Democrats will pay for this expansion of spending. And guess who represents the tobacco farmers? Blue Dogs like North Carolinians Mike McIntyre and Heath Shuler. And the Democrats also slash the Medicare Advantage program because they can’t get enough money from poor smokers. But who likes the Medicare Advantage program? Rural seniors who are represented by guess who? Right, many Blue Dogs.

On vote after vote, the Blue Dogs are put in a difficult position. Vote with the Democrats and face the wrath of their constituents or vote with the Republicans and face the wrath of Nancy Pelosi. Fifteen different times, the Blue Dogs have renounced their leadership and voted with Republicans on motions to recommit. That gives Republicans effective control over the floor and gives the liberal Democratic leadership fits.

But at the end of the day, the Democrats will have a record of attempting to steadily increase the size and scope of the government. And if the Blue Dogs want choice committee assignments, they will have to be complicit in these efforts.

The conventional wisdom is that the House will stay Democrat-controlled until at least 2010. But don’t forget that Rahm Emanuel got his majority by recruiting pro-life, pro-gun, anti-deficit Blue Dogs. My guess is that the Blue Dog could be an endangered species in the next election if the liberal Democratic leadership continues to make them walk the plank on their left-leaning agenda. Who’s howling now?