Blue Dogs push to go further than Obama spending freeze

Blue Dog Democrats want Congress to go further than President Barack Obama’s proposal to freeze spending in next year’s budget.

The group of House centrists will soon introduce a bill capping discretionary spending at specific levels. The move would challenge their leadership and the president, who are balancing concerns with the nearly $1.6 trillion deficit in 2010 with those who say government spending on job creation is the way out of the recession.

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The spending levels sought by the Blue Dogs may result in spending cuts, which would go beyond Obama’s proposal to save $250 billion over the next decade by freezing non-security discretionary spending for three years, said Rep. Baron Hill (D-Ind.), a senior Blue Dog.

“Two hundred and fifty billion is a lot of savings with a freeze on discretionary spending, but I think we can do better,” Hill said in a brief interview.

The group has yet to hash out the details on the spending caps bill, but it has near-unanimous support among its members, a Blue Dog aide said.

The Blue Dog Coalition, 54 members strong, has enough votes to block any budget resolution, a fact House leaders are well-aware of.

“The Blue Dogs are always an important part of crafting the budget resolution, and we look forward to hearing their ideas and taking them into consideration as we put this year’s budget together,” said Katie Grant, a spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).

Blue Dogs have the added incentive to press for their fiscally conservative agenda this year, when many of them are facing tough reelection races.

Republicans have cited the retirements of longtime Blue Dog Reps. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) and Dennis Moore (D-Kan.) as evidence that 2010 will be tough on Democrats running in swing or conservative districts.

Blue Dogs last year used their leverage to pressure House leaders and Obama into backing a pay-as-you-go budget enforcement bill. Most of the Blue Dog Coalition voted for the $3.5 trillion 2010 budget resolution, but only after it secured commitments from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Hoyer to press a reluctant Senate to pass the statutory pay-go measure. That requires any mandatory spending increases to be paid for. Blue Dogs said last week the recent passage of the pay-go bill in the House and Senate was the group’s biggest legislative victory.

The Blue Dogs’ budget push would add pressure to Democratic leaders and a White House already facing a liberal revolt on Obama’s spending freeze.

House Democrats on the left, concerned about a jobless rate expected to hover near 10 percent throughout this year, want more spending — not less — to spur job creation. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) said that job creation will be his panel’s top priority. He and Pelosi have said that any freeze should apply to all discretionary spending, including money for defense spending.

“We work in our caucus to build consensus, and the leadership is committed to hearing and reviewing all members’ ideas and suggestions,” said Nadeam Elshami, a Pelosi spokesman.

Senate and House Democrats are now pushing more jobs measures that won’t fall under the freeze. Senate leaders are set to unveil a jobs bill with tax credits for small businesses this week, and House Democrats, without the support of leading Blue Dogs, in December passed a $154 billion jobs package with infrastructure funding, state fiscal aid and extended unemployment benefits. The White House budget calls for about $100 billion in new job-creation programs over the next year.