Blue Dogs seek a hunting ground in upper chamber

Blue Dog Democrats, frustrated that their fight to end deficit spending has been stymied by the Senate, may endorse candidates running for the upper chamber.

Leaders of the group told The Hill on Wednesday that they are considering plans to formally back and contribute to Senate candidates running in November.

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“I expect you could see the Blue Dog PAC get involved in some Senate races this year,” said Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.).

“We’re never going to restore fiscal discipline to our government until we get more Blue Dogs elected to Republican Senate seats.”

Ross is the coalition's communications chair, but said he was speaking for himself, because no official decision has been reached.

The Blue Dog political action committee (PAC) is flush with cash, and has more money than it can spend on its own members and endorsed House candidates, sometimes called “Blue pups.”

While plans are preliminary, one potential recipient of support is the Senate campaign of former Virginia Gov. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerTikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Watchdog report finds FBI not motivated by political bias in Trump probe Ex-Rep. Scott Taylor to seek old Virginia seat MORE, a popular Democrat who balanced the books in his state with a tax increase and won fans in rural parts of his Southern state with support for gun rights.

It would not be the first time that a House party faction crossed the Capitol to change the makeup of the Senate. In 2004, members of the conservative Republican Study Committee, including Reps. Jeff FlakeJeffrey (Jeff) Lane FlakeLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Kelly, McSally virtually tied in Arizona Senate race: poll The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Nareit — White House cheers Republicans for storming impeachment hearing MORE (R-Ariz.) and Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanHouse Ethics Committee informs Duncan Hunter he can no longer vote after guilty plea Duncan Hunter pleads guilty after changing plea Trump campaign steps up attacks on Biden MORE (R-Wis.), organized to help right-leaning candidates win Republican primaries.

Blue Dog members say they are not interested in challenging Democratic incumbents or getting involved in primaries. They only want to replace Republicans.

Blue Dog leaders stress that no final decision has been made, and any Senate effort would require a change in the group’s bylaws. Some longtime members said they were not aware of the proposal, though they supported the idea. Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.), chairman of the Blue Dog PAC, said he expects a decision by August.

“We’re interested in getting some like-minded people in the Senate,” Tanner said.

Blue Dogs are frustrated that they have rallied support for tax hikes that would prevent popular spending plans from adding to the deficit, only to see the Senate cut them out.

{mospagebreak}The 49-member coalition advocates strict adherence to pay-as-you-go, or pay-go, rules dictating that all spending must by paid for with spending cuts or tax hikes, referred to as “pay-fors.”

Since Democrats took over, the House has passed three paid-for fixes to prevent millions of taxpayers from getting hit by the Alternative Minimum Tax, with the third time coming Wednesday. The Senate has twice stripped out the pay-for, and is expected to do the same this year.

The feud escalated on the “new GI Bill,” a tuition program for veterans authored by Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and inserted into the emergency war supplemental. Blue Dogs threatened to block the spending bill until they got House leaders to agree to offset it with a tax on individuals making more than $500,000 and couples earning more than $1 million. But when House leaders reached a deal with the Senate and President Bush, the tax was again stripped out, and the cost of the program heaped onto the deficit.

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Some Blue Dogs, such as Rep. Dennis Cardoza (D-Calif.), have complained that Senate leaders should do more to support fiscal responsibility by making Senate Republicans filibuster if they want to block pay-fors. And Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) chided that money should be included in a Medicare bill to provide the senators with “spine transplants.”

That’s why, as Blue Dog leader Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.) said, “We’re looking for ways to have an impact on both sides of the Capitol.”

A Blue Dog senator would be a first, but Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), a conservative Democrat who was governor of right-leaning Indiana from 1989 to 1997, noted that there have already been several attempts at centrist coalitions in the Senate. He said he would consider joining another.

“Over the years there have been efforts to establish centrist … groups here,” Bayh said. “It’s never been as formal or as lasting as the Blue Dogs, but obviously the more like-minded members that we have — centrists, pragmatists — the greater the potential for something like that to occur with me. I’m not interested in joining an organization just to join something, but if there’s actually a potential for practical results? Absolutely. We need more of that around here.”

Members noted that Blue Dogs supported then-Reps. Chris John (D-La.) and Harold Ford (D-Tenn.) in their Senate bids. But aides said the donations were made before they were officially Senate candidates.

The current process for endorsing Blue Dog candidates calls for a review of a candidate’s record and public statements, along with an interview with caucus members before the full coalition votes on whether to endorse.  
Endorsed members get a $5,000 donation from the PAC for the general election. But Blue Dog members also generally campaign for them and help them raise money.

Blue Dog staffers note that the idea of supporting Senate candidates has not even been brought before the Blue Dog PAC board, an 11-member panel that could then refer it to the full membership of the coalition.

The Blue Dogs certainly have the money. The Blue Dog PAC has doled out $790,000 this election cycle, and still has nearly $1.5 million in the bank.

Under the group’s rules, the PAC can give money only to its members and its endorsed candidates, most of whom have already received the maximum from the PAC.

J. Taylor Rushing contributed to this article.