Tuesday, August 28, 2007

bark vs. bite: blue dogs or just dogs?

An editorial in Monday's Wall Street Journal sounds an alarm about the so-called "Blue Dogs" and their purported fiscal conservatism. Baron Hill is a (proud) member of that group and I remember him repeatedly claiming that he was a fiscal conservative during the campaign. Hilarious!

The data are clear that Hill is fiscally conservative...for a Democrat. But that's like getting the highest grade of those who flunk an exam. (His Republican opponent, Mike Sodrel, was a fiscal moderate within the Republican party-- no great honor.) In the past, Hill received D’s from the National Taxpayers Union. Hill has averaged 13% from Citizens Against Government Waste and was consistently rated "hostile" to taxpayers.

The 'Blue Dog' Moment
So far, they're spending like other Democrats.

A high-stakes budget showdown is shaping up this fall between President Bush and Congressional Democrats. The debate will also be a moment of truth for the so-called "blue dog" Democrats: the 48 self-described fiscal conservatives in the House Democratic Caucus.

The bone of contention is the $22 billion in domestic spending that Democrats passed in their budget resolution above what Mr. Bush requested in his own budget. The Democratic spending plan would increase non-defense expenditures by 6.5% next year--more than double the inflation rate. The White House is threatening vetoes if Democrats pass spending bills above Mr. Bush's limit, which could possibly lead to a government shutdown. Republicans have already lined up the necessary House votes to sustain any spending veto.

The blue dog Web site boasts that its mission is to "refocus Congress on balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden of debt"....But Republicans can't do that on their own: they need the votes of these moderate Democrats.

Here's the rub: So far this year the blue dogs have been almost all bark when it comes to fiscal restraint and debt reduction. Thirty of the 48 have voted for every one of the non-defense spending bills their committee chairman have sent them. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is enforcing party discipline, and as a result 28 of the 48 blue dogs voted "no" on each of the 27 amendments that Republicans proposed to cut the costs of these bills. The 13 freshman Democrats who represent conservative districts--such as Heath Shuler (N.C.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Zack Space (Ohio), Nick Lampson (Texas)--have been a particular disappointment; back home these same blue dogs trumpet their "independent streak."

Voting records from recent years confirm that the blue dogs are less than consistent spending hawks. The National Taxpayers Union did some checking and found that the blue dogs had an average fiscal score of 24 out of 100, earning them a grade of D as a group. It also found that last year the blue dogs sponsored $145 of new spending for every dollar of budget reductions, for a net spending increase per member of more than $140 billion.

The blue dogs are consistent on one fiscal issue: stopping tax cuts. As a group they opposed the Bush tax cuts and the extension of those tax cuts, and a super-majority vote requirement to raise taxes--all in the name of easing the debt burden on future generations. But those concerns evaporated when all but nine in the blue dog coalition voted to expand the Schip health-care program to include many middle-class families, at a cost of $132.6 billion over the 2008-2017 period.

So in the weeks ahead we will see whether the blue dog Democrats work to reduce the $22 billion spending bonus their party leadership is seeking. They were elected on a platform of fiscal responsibility, and we are about to find out if they meant it.


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