Friday, March 27, 2009

Blue Dogs: GOP Rightwing Hounds in Disguise

Blue Dog Dems
Threaten the
Obama Agenda

By Bernie Horn
Campaign for America's Future

Remember what happened to the President’s stimulus legislation? It was watered down through a series of amendments followed by a painful “deal” with three Republicans whose votes were needed to overcome a GOP filibuster. It is happening again with President Obama’s budget. But this time, Democrats are the ones threatening to ruin the legislation.

Over the past few weeks, many Democrats in Congress—especially in the Senate—have been speaking out and organizing against crucial elements of the Obama budget. They are trying to weaken or eliminate the most progressive initiatives, including his plans for health care for all, energy independence, and a shift of the tax burden from the middle class to the wealthy.

Activists need to speak up now, before it’s too late. Both the House and Senate Budget Committees are expected to vote on their respective budget resolutions late this week, and the budget battle will likely reach the House and Senate floors next week.

Here’s the short version of my appeal. Please go to a web page set up by the Campaign for America’s Future that makes it easy for you to contact “Blue Dog” conservative Democrats in the House and would-be Blue Dogs in the Senate. Tell them we elected Barack Obama to bring change to Washington—they should stop blocking the change we need.

Now, here’s the longer version.

President Obama is doing something unusual. He is trying to win preliminary approval for a sweeping range of reforms by putting them in the FY 2010 budget. As Paul Krugman explains, “President Obama’s new budget represents a huge break, not just with the policies of the past eight years, but with policy trends over the past 30 years.” Robert Reich agrees, saying that through this budget “Obamanomics finally reverses and repudiates the economic philosophy that has dominated America since 1981…It’s revolutionary.”

It’s a gutsy strategy, and one that ought to succeed because Democrats control both the House and Senate. You see, Republicans can’t kill this budget—only Democrats can. The budget resolution operates under special rules, the most important being it’s not subject to filibuster. So the budget can easily pass both the House and Senate without a single Republican vote. In fact, right now it seems unlikely that any Republican will support Obama’s budget.

Unfortunately, the Obama budget is under intense attack from so-called “Blue Dog” Democrats. The Blue Dog Democrats is a caucus of 47 U.S. Representatives who describe themselves as a “Coalition of Conservative Democrats.” Last week, Senator Evan Bayh announced the creation of a similar group of 16 Democratic Senators (including Joe Lieberman).

Members of both groups have staked out positions against key budget provisions—opposing especially Obama’s health, energy, and tax reform initiatives.

Progressive budget priorities are especially threatened in the Senate. Parliamentary rules allow Speaker Pelosi to limit amendments on the House floor. But the Senate battle over amendments could get ugly with the Bayh bloc holding enough votes to slice out progressive programs.

Senator Bayh’s group wants to be considered “moderate,” but their complaints about President Obama’s policies are conservative complaints. The creation of this organization appears to be a project of conservative special interests. And the timing of Bayh’s announcement makes it obvious that the group’s first priority is to attack the parts of President Obama’s budget that conservatives abhor.

It’s time to make the Blue Dogs behave. Please click here, go to the CAF web page, and tell the disloyal Democrats to support Barack Obama’s budget—and stop blocking the change we need.

P.S. about “budget reconciliation” for all you policy wonks:

There is a parliamentary procedure called “budget reconciliation” which is important to the current budget debate. To trigger the reconciliation process, Congress has to include provisions in the Budget Resolution that instruct the appropriations committees to approve specific provisions by a certain date. Those provisions are packaged into a reconciliation bill that is subject to special rules—the most important being that it is not subject to filibuster in the Senate.

Over the years, presidents have used the budget reconciliation process to pass very controversial matters. As the Washington Post explains, “Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton both used the tactic to win deficit-reduction packages, while George W. Bush used it to push through his signature tax cuts.”

Progressives want to include language in the Budget Resolution that make President Obama’s health care and energy “cap-and-trade” initiatives subject to the reconciliation process—allowing them to be approved in the Senate by a simple majority vote. In other words, progressives would like the chance to adopt these crucial policies through majority rule—instead of letting a minority of only 41 Senators block them from enactment.

Seems reasonable. But Blue Dogs in the Senate are screaming foul. According to news reports, they have already killed the possibility of making “cap-and-trade” part of the reconciliation process, and they’re not sure about health care. At present, it appears that the House Budget Resolution will include a reconciliation provision on health care but not “cap-and-trade,” and the Senate Resolution will probably include neither. If that happens, the issue of reconciliation will be put off while Congress recesses for two weeks (April 4 to 19) and the matter will be raised again in the House-Senate conference committee. If the final Budget Resolution includes reconciliation language that instructs the appropriations committees to fund health care reform, that up-or-down vote would probably take place in September.

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