Of the twenty-seven Democrats who voted with the Republicans to oppose Obama’s stimulus bill, twenty-one were Blue Dogs:
But according to Democratic leadership sources, the number was almost much higher – and could have been high enough to hand the Republicans a monumental victory – had it not been for a letter from President Obama’s budget director Peter Orszag.
The letter addressed to House Appropriations Committee Chairman David promised to return to “pay-as-you-go budgeting,” and stressed that the stimulus was an “extraordinary response to an extraordinary process” and thus subject to different rules.
“It should not be seen as an opportunity to abandon the fiscal discipline that we owe each and every taxpayer in spending their money – and that is critical to keeping the United States strong in a global, interdependent economy,” the letter stated.
Orszag also emphasized that Obama’s support for paying for any temporary tax cuts in the stimulus that he would like to make permanent. The budget director said Obama would detail those offsets in his budget.
“Moving forward, we need to return to the fiscal responsibility and pay-as-you-go budgeting that we had in the 1990’s for all non-emergency measures,” Orszag continued. “The President and his economic team look forward to working with the Congress to develop budget enforcement rules that are based on the tools that helped create the surpluses of a decade ago.
A commitment to "paygo" right now is problematic for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is that it could doom any meaningful healthcare legislation. But the fact that Obama was forced to kneel to Blue Dog demands is as clear an example as I can think of about something we’ve been saying for a long time — the Blue Dogs now hold the power in the House to either join with Republicans or Democrats and control what legislation gets passed. If eight more Blue Dogs had crossed over and voted against the bill, it would have failed.
In the Chris Bowers/Nate Silver discussion about whether supporting the bank bailout bill was the progressive position or not, Chris brought up the fact that there was a distinction between the members of the conservative New Democrat Coalition and the Blue Dogs and how they voted. Kagro made a very interesting point in the comments:
[O]ne ideological difference between Blue Dogs and New Dems is that Blue Dogs more often appear to have a political interest in being seen as distinct fromDemocrats rather than being a distinct type of Democrat, as is the claim of New Dems.
New Dems and Progressives have a political interest (at least at this stage of the game) in allowing themselves to be closely associated with the Obama administration, and in being seen not to be obstructing it. Blue Dogs, however, are a different story. They will, in large part, benefit politically by distancing themselves, and being seen as only skeptical, cautious and hesitant participants in his plans.
In other words, it wasn’t so much that the bailout is a progressive thing as it was that not opposing Obama is politically beneficial to most progressives. It’s also an old (and not that good) habit of progressives — to allow their safe seats and sense of responsibility for sustaining the Democratic leadership (both legislative and executive) to be leveraged into votes that may not necessarily be in line with their principles. Or at least to subsume their ideological principles to their political ones.
You’ll recognize it as the "where else are they gonna go" syndrome. Or in this case, the "you’re not really going to make your new president and leadership risk XYZ, are you?" syndrome.
Howie has more on the Rahm Emanuel legacy of recruiting conservatives to run as Democrats. Republicans love the Heath Shuler enforcement-only immigration bill and if enough Blue Dogs join with Republicans to get it on to the floor, Congressional Quarterly notes that "it would set up a platform for political attacks in the November elections, highlighting the GOP view that Congress should get tough on the border before addressing guest-worker visas or illegal immigrants." In other words, as Howie says, it could "wind up jeopardizing the re-election prospects of several vulnerable colleagues."
Making the Blue Dogs pay a price for this kind of sabotage is why we formed Accountability Now and launched the Primary project, and we’ll be having some major announcements about this in the coming weeks. But is important to note that if left unchecked, the Blue Dogs could become a bigger obstacle than the Republicans to the change people voted for in November.