Blue Dogs Finally Developing Teeth?

I have consistently argued that the ‘Blue Dog’ label is essentially meaningless – that it is nothing more than an advertising slogan to help Democrats get elected in conservative districts while voting with liberals in DC. Blue Dogs in Congress claim to have no higher priority than deficit reduction and balanced budgets, but they have acted as accomplices to Pelosi, Reid, and President Obama, as those leaders have exploded the deficit to historic levels. Their answer has been to claim progress toward implementing a pay-go rule, which prevents expansion of the deficit – unless Congress decides to ignore the rule.

That said, it seems that the Blue Dogs are starting to worry that their mask is slipping. Already on the hook for the enormous deficit, it seems they may be rebelling against government-run health care:

Forty-five Blue Dogs, led by Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.), on Monday warned that they need to be part of the writing of health care legislation in a sharply worded letter to Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.).

The Blue Dogs pronounced themselves “increasingly troubled” at the lack of involvement in the writing of the massive bill and said their limited role is “especially concerning in light of the collaborative approach taken by our Senate colleagues.”

Ross said they want to be brought in on the front end, not the back.

“I’ve had a sit-down with Chairman Waxman on health care, but we keep hearing rumors that a bill is being written,” he said. “A conversation is nice, but we want to be there when it’s being written.”

Ross made clear that the success of the health care overhaul was at risk. Lawmakers are pressing ahead quickly on a massive reform package with a goal of enacting a bill into law this year. Leaders in both chambers have said they’d like to have a bill on the floor by August.

“We speak with 51 votes, and we expect to be involved in helping draft the legislation. And if we’re not, I see a lot more complications down the road on health care than what the leadership experienced on cap-and-trade,” Ross said in an interview Tuesday…

“This is not something that should pass with 218 votes,” a Blue Dog aide said. “It’s something that should pass by a large bipartisan margin on the House floor.”

The Blue Dog request for more input got a nod from a key ally, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), in a press conference Tuesday. Hoyer has already been trying to coordinate the issue with committee chairmen while looking out for the concerns of Blue Dogs and other Caucus groups.

They “want to be included in the formulation of the legislation,” Hoyer said. “I think that’s a reasonable request. I think they will be. … I think the committee chairs want to do so as well.”

This might be nothing more than a face-saving measure for constituents at home – something Blue Dogs can point to and claim that they’re not rolling over. But if that’s what this is, the strategy is poorly-considered. By demanding to be included in the process early on, the Blue Dogs are putting themselves on the hook at the end of the process. If they’re not included, they have to vote against the bill; if they are included, they’re responsible for the final product. Presumably they realized before sending the letter that it makes it harder to wash their hands of the final product.

If so, good for the Blue Dogs – who are apparently waking up to the fact that the most massive expansion of the federal government in decades might be hard to defend in swing districts. They’ll still have to answer for TARP, and the nationalization of banks and auto companies. But perhaps they’ll draw the line at government-run health care. Still, I’ll believe it when I see it.