Will Blue Dog Democrats Stop Health-Care Debacle?

House Democratic leaders and committee chairmen charged forward this week with their sweeping health-care legislation, still hoping to pass the complicated $1.5 trillion, 10-year revamp before the August recess. But opposition surfacing from the “Blue Dog” Democrats has given the Republican minority a chance to delay another expensive government-run plan that is likely to undo most of the great advantages — for patients as well as doctors — that distinguish American health care.  

Forty members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of 52 Democrats who like to distinguish themselves from those marching in lockstep with hyperliberal House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (by being more fiscally conservative and stronger on national security), signed a letter citing “strong reservations about the process and direction” of the legislation.

“The Blue Dogs are committed to passing health-care reform. However, reform that does not meet the President’s goals of substantially bringing down costs is not an option,” said Blue Dog Rep. Mike Ross (D.-Ark.)

The term “Blue Dog Democrat” is an outgrowth from the term “Yellow Dog Democrat,” that was used to label Southerners who voted only for Democrats after Abraham Lincoln — a Republican — led the Union away from the Confederacy and ended slavery. (They were said to proclaim that they’d rather vote for a yellow dog than a Republican.) Then, supposedly, they got their new name a decade or so ago when Rep. Pete Geren (D.-Tex.), said Yellow Dogs had been “choked blue” by ultra-liberal policies.  

“What we saw this week was the Blue Dogs finally standing up and attempting to represent their district,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.). “So much of what this Congress has done has moved the entire nation to the left, further than the Blue Dogs districts’ constituents would desire.”  

Price says it’s too soon to tell if the Blue Dog dissent will keep the legislation from passing before the August recess. “If the Blue Dogs remain strong to their word and their conviction then yes. What they asked for was it to be delayed until after the break, so that folks had an opportunity to look at the bill and get feed back on it. But if past is prologue — then they have not remained true to their word and consequently they have folded or caved — I would hope they would not do it again."

That may be put to the test quickly: The House Democrats passed a health care bill out of committee Wednesday.  

In the past three years Blue Dogs have failed their constituents on a number of issues. They gained election (or re-election) in 2006 by promising to be strong on national security then went back on their word with FISA. The same can be said about this year’s stimulus controversy.  

Republican strategist and pollster Kellyanne Conway says the Blue Dogs used to have credibility. “They voted fairly consistently along the fiscally restrained line.… And they have been tantamount to the swing vote in Congress on a number of issues.”  

“The Blue Dog Democrats,” she said, “have been an important centerpiece of economic conservatism and fiscal restraint and that was true when John Kasich was head of the Budget Committee after the ’94 Republican sweep under Speaker Gingrich’s leadership.”  

Conway and many other Republicans believe that the passage of “cap-and-trade” was a tipping point for supposedly fiscally responsible Blue Dogs and — especially — their constituents.   

“It’s a budget crusher,” Conway said of the Democrats health-care reform proposal. “We are at $1.7 trillion deficit and 10% unemployment. These Blue Dogs have to know that for every five job seekers in this country right now there is one available job, and those are their constituents.”  

“Just as people say you can’t be a RINO, a Republican in name only, you can’t be a BDINO either, a Blue Dog in name only. It has to mean something. If these are the same people that voted the prescription drug benefit, the bridge to no where, and the stimulus, they ought to rethink their labeling,” said Conway.  

“They have the numbers, over 50 individuals, if they wanted they could drive the entire agenda of the House, all of the issues and controlling what happens with their votes and Republicans’ — and our olive branch remains out them,” Price told HUMAN EVENTS.