House Blue Dogs On EFCA: Let Senate Go First

House "moderates" want political shelter:

Blue Dog Dems have told House leader Steny Hoyer that they don't want a vote on Employee Free Choice before the Senate because they fear they'll end up having to vote for two different versions of the measure, compounding the political damage they may face in moderate districts, the aide says.

"Their concern is that the House will pass something, then the Senate will take up the bill and do something different," the senior leadership aide tells me. "The Blue Dogs don't want to end up voting on something that won't even become law. They're saying, `See what can get through the Senate first, and then we'll vote on it.'"

Reportedly, the Dem leadership in the House agreed.

Seems Employee Free Choice Act will come soon, since Blue Dogs are already ducking for cover. So that's good.

But doesn't this move strip labor of leverage with fence-sitters in the Senate? Shouldn't we avoid ceding more agenda-setting power to Snowe and Specter?

A good reminder that getting 60 Dems in the Senate wasn't an arbitrary goal. Wouldn't it be nice if every legislative issue didn't hinge on the whims of one or two Republicans?

Update [2009-2-18 12:42:59 by Josh Orton]: More succinctly: this move sacrifices progressive negotiation with Senate moderates. Rather than force them to decide which House-passed provisions to oppose, Blue Dogs want Senate moderates to preemptively shot-call.

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Blue dogs

The era of bipartisanship is underway.  The senators from Maine and Pennsylvania are holdovers from the old approach to involving rebublican viewpoints in the definition of legislative outcomes. The new way of working together is rapidly evolving inside the Democratic Party.  The republican moderates in both houses are being knocked off in their own primaries and then losing the general elections to those new members who are forming the "Blue Dog " caucus.  These are the folks who represent the constituencies that sent moderate republicans to Congress and their concerns and values have not changed much.  They have no more use for the inflexible and often radical right wing republicans than do the rest of us.  There was some indication toward the end of the stimulus debate that the White House is aware that these "Blue Dogs" represent the concerns that need to be made a part of the governing process.  The radical and inflexible right does not bring much of use or interest to the national debate and the urgency for reasonable responses that are required.  The key to strong support from the left and right center engaged creatively with the rest of the Democratic majority can lead to the kind of progressive and inclusive governance President Obama is able to lead.    

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What Democrats should learn from this year's Congressional voting patterns

Thanks to Iowa blogger John Deeth, I learned that Iowa's own Senator Tom Harkin

voted against George Bush's declared position more than any other senator in 2008, according to Congressional Quarterly vote scores. Harkin opposed Bush's position 75 percent of the time.

More important, Congressional Quarterly has released its annual rankings of members' votes. Richard Rubin's write-up is here, and there's a link on that page to the pdf file you can use to find how often each member of Congress voted with Bush and voted with his or her own party.

Rubin gives the main conclusions:

Bush's side prevailed on just 47.8 percent of roll call votes in 2008 where he took a clear position. That is the eighth-lowest score in the 56-year history of the survey, although it was higher than Bush's 38.3 percent success rate in 2007. Congress forced him to accept a farm bill and Medicare doctor-payment changes he didn't want, and lawmakers challenged him repeatedly on issues from tobacco regulation to infrastructure spending.

Moderate Republicans fled from the president as the election neared, and the average House Republican supported Bush just 64 percent of the time. That's down 8 percentage points from a year ago and the lowest for a president's party since 1990, midway through Bush's father's term in the White House. His average support score of 70 percent among GOP senators was also the lowest for a president's party since 1990.

As in 2007, Democrats voted with Bush far less often than they had when the Republicans were in charge and could set the agenda. House Democrats voted with Bush just 16 percent of the time on average -- above their 2007 support score of 7 percent but still the second lowest for any president. Democratic senators joined Bush on 34 percent of roll call votes, down from their average support score of 37 percent a year ago. [...]

At the same time, despite his political weakness, Democratic control of Congress and frequent defeats, Bush got his way on some of the biggest issues of the year.

Playing offense, the administration secured more money for his effort to fight AIDS globally and cemented a nuclear-cooperation deal with India. But Bush scored most often with blocking tactics, using threatened vetoes and the Senate filibuster to avoid significant changes to his Iraq policies, major restrictions on intelligence- gathering tactics, and removal of tax breaks for oil and gas companies. He was a resilient pinata, losing plenty of votes along the way but remaining the biggest obstacle to the Democrats' ability to turn their campaign agenda into law.

I see two lessons for Democrats here. First, Barack Obama should understand that driving a very hard bargain with Congress often pays off. You don't have to back down at the first sign of serious opposition. If even an extremely unpopular president was able to do reasonably well with a Congress controlled by the other party, a new president who is quite popular like Obama should be able to get most of what he wants from a Congress controlled by his own party.

If any of Obama's proposals fail the first year, he should consider trying again later without watering them down. Bush wasn't able to get everything he wanted out of the Republican-controlled Congress during his first year or two, but he kept at it and was able to get much of his agenda through eventually. Many tax cuts not included in the 2001 package got through in later years. He didn't get the energy bill he wanted until 2005.

The second lesson is for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. It's long past time to start making the Republicans pay a price for using the filibuster. Otherwise they will continue to use it routinely to block Obama's agenda.

Nate Silver recently looked at how Republicans have used the filibuster since Democrats gained the majority in Congress. He concluded that Reid "has been exceptionally ineffective":

There are basically two mechanisms that a majority leader can employ to limit filibusters: firstly, he can threaten to block votes on certain of the opposition party's legislation (or alternatively, present carrots to them for allowing a vote to proceed), and secondly, he can publicly shame them. Reid managed to do neither, and the Senate Republicans did fairly well for themselves considering that they were in a minority and were burdened by a President with negative political capital.

Time to play hardball in the Senate, not only with Republicans but also with Evan Bayh and his merry band of Democratic "Blue Dogs" if they collude with Republicans to obstruct Obama's agenda.

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Will Blue Dog power decline in the next Congress?

Many a bad bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with the votes of Republicans and Democratic "Blue Dogs." These representatives call themselves "moderates" or "centrists," and you often find them voting with corporate interests, against the majority of the House Democratic caucus, when the chips are down.

This Washington Post article about the upcoming debate over an economic stimulus bill cites Representative Baron Hill of Indiana as "incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats."

Hill wants the economic stimulus money to go toward road and bridge construction, whereas others would like to see more of the money spent on "green jobs" and infrastructure projects that are more environmentally friendly than building new roads. Progressives would like to spend the transportation money on fixing our existing roads and bridges while expanding public transit and rail. (Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to "keep the economic stimulus clean." Click here for more details about the economic and environmental consequences of letting new road construction dominate the stimulus bill.)

Getting back to the title of this diary, Matt Stoller read that Washington Post piece about debates over the stimulus and was intrigued to learn that Hill claims 51 members for the Blue Dog Coalition:

Last session, there were 49 Blue Dogs, and during the election season the caucus continually bragged about how they would add a substantial number of new members in 2009.  Still, their PAC didn't give to very many Democratic candidates, two Blue Dogs lost reelection, and a bunch of their candidate prospects lost.  If it's true that the Blue Dogs have only increased their number by 2, and I'm not sure it is, then they really are far weaker in the House than they were from 2006-2008.  There are 257 Democrats in the next Congress and 178 Republicans.  While the Blue Dogs are still a swing bloc, they only have 11 votes to give.  That's not very many, considering that this number assumes all Republicans always vote with the Blue Dogs.  If Republicans split off from their caucus on certain votes, even small numbers of Republicans, then Blue Dog priorities are far less likely to matter overall.

Once the new House convenes, it will be interesting to see how the Blue Dogs compare in number to the Progressive Caucus, which had 71 members in the last Congress. My hunch is that the Progressive Caucus will add a lot more new members than the Blue Dogs.

After the new year I'll try to find out how many members Bruce Braley (IA-01) was able to recruit to the Populist Caucus he is forming.

Whether or not Blue Dog power declines in the House, it may be on the rise in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is setting up a Blue Dog caucus in the upper chamber. Although Senate Majority leader Harry Reid's spokesman claims Reid is "upbeat" about Bayh's plans, it's likely that the Senate Blue Dogs will collude with Republicans to obstruct Barack Obama's agenda.

Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh's move:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can't really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there's no reason it couldn't work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Let's hope the memory of the 1994 Republican landslide will induce conservative Democrats not to block most of Obama's agenda. The Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 wanted to show Bill Clinton who was boss, but the effect was to make Democrats look incompetent, depressing Democratic base turnout in 1994 and turning swing voters toward the Republicans.

On the other hand, I would not underestimate the Blue Dogs' willingness to do what big money wants, whether or not it's good for the Democratic Party.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

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We Need the Blue Dogs* (yes, that's an asterisk)

Well, I seem to have found a nice niche here saying things that few want to hear, and I find I rather like it.  Nobody sane would question my status as a Democrat, but given the fact that we've been a bit monolithic of late, I'll stir the pot a bit more.

We need the Blue Dogs! Or, well, at least some Blue Dogs.  Frankly, the netroots has behaved like a pack of children, most of the time anyway, on this issue.

Feeling mashochistic?

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