Dogs of war (or not)

The Blue Dogs speak. It’s debatable whether their bark matched their bite. Will they ultimately follow the orders of their masters, roll over and help ram socialized medicine through Congress?

While forcing Democrats to cut $100 billion from the cost of the bill is something, (although the devil resides in those details) it won’t provide cover from voters who know the package stinks — especially increased costs for rural doctors. Blue Dogs can use their newfound considerable power to force Washington to start from scratch and perhaps even work with Republicans.

With the heat on, if they choose to cower and run, voters will punish them in 2010. They won by being more fiscally conservative than rank-and-file Democrats, and more moderate and reasonable than Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). But if that doesn’t matter when the chips are down, what good are they? Voters will ask themselves, “Why not just elect a moderate Republican immune to President Obama’s charm and Pelosi’s arm-twisting, rather than a spineless Democrat?” Voters will lament that while they thought they were getting a pit bull, they instead find themselves stuck with a poodle. (No offense to poodles — they are lovely companions, but I wouldn’t rely on one to protect me from harm.)

The question for two weeks has been, Will the Blue Dogs bite? Or will they just piddle on the floor?

After much wrangling, the Blue Dogs bared their fangs — sort of. It’s not enough. They’ve been holding all the cards, displaying a hint of statesmanship in addressing a massive overhaul of an industry comprising a whopping 18 percent of the U.S. economy. They seemed reluctant to give short shrift to the initial Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warning (Senate bill notwithstanding) that, in terms of savings, this dog won’t hunt. But eleventh-hour negotiations with Blue Dogs on the Energy and Commerce Committee handed Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) what passes for a victory for Democrats. No House vote until fall, but he is poised to get the bill out of committee with just barely enough Blue Dog support before August recess.

House Democrats, in good conscience, should not even consider passing a measure with such a staggering impact without GOP support. But since they don’t care about the concerns of Republican members and their constituents, the matter rested on the shoulders of seven of the 52 Blue Dog Democrats — those serving on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, straddling between caving and fighting. The four of those seven who caved to Waxman, and the rest of the 52, will have an interesting August. Blue Dog constituents are now among the most powerful people in the country as they gear up to make their voices heard on government-run healthcare. While the Blue Dogs gained ground, it was miniscule compared to what Americans wanted and expected after two weeks of Blue Dog growling. And Congress, beware — many average Americans are becoming more familiar with the details of the bill than are their elected officials.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) recently asked during a speech, “What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?” August recess should allow House members to make at least a respectable amount of headway in actually reading the bill. It’s well within the realm of the doable. The House Democrats’ bill is 1,017 pages long. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand) is 1,168 pages long. I suggest they read both.
If Obamacare fails in the fall, congressional Democrats live to fight another day. If Obama prevails, who takes the hit when the first round of tragedies occur and someone is on a previously unheard-of lengthy waiting list for crucial treatment under the new government-run healthcare plan? Will the president tell us to be patient, these things take time, and just to trust him awhile longer — as he did with his failed $787 billion “stimulus” plan?

If voters determine Blue Dog Democrats sold out, it’s easy to figure out who ends up in the doghouse alongside President Obama.

Jacobus, president of Capitol Strategies PR, has managed congressional campaigns, worked on Capitol Hill and is an adjunct professor at George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management.  She appears on CNN, MSNBC and FOX News as a GOP strategist.