Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blue Dogs: DINOs Could Be More Of A Problem Next Year

Imagine it's January 2009. A Democratic president has just been inaugurated. In the Senate, the party has won a 60-vote supermajority, enough to invoke cloture on Republican filibuster attempts. For liberals and progressives, it's party time.

But there's one big problem -- by April, it's apparent that a number of crucial bills can't get through the House of Representatives. The problem is the group of lawmakers known to some as the Blue Dogs, to others as Democrats in Name Only (DINOs).

You can recognize them by their voting records. Americans for Democratic Action rates members of Congress on a liberal/conservative dichotomy. When you spot one who's got a voting record like a moderate Republican of old (not the Republicans who are being characterized as "moderates" now), that's a Blue Dog.

The potential for this to become a big problem for any new Democratic administration became clear Thursday during a House fight over GI educational benefits. The Web site Politico reported in its feature called "The Crypt":

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) issued a stern rebuke to a group of fellow House Democrats on Thursday, saying that the behavior of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog coalition was “absolutely shameful,” after the group revolted on Wednesday over the cost of veterans’ educations benefits in a war funding measure, delaying consideration of the $183 billion supplemental spending bill.

“It is absolutely shameful that members of the Blue Dog coalition would vote to take this country into Iraq on false intelligence and lies, repeatedly vote to fund the disastrous military occupation of that country, but choose to turn their backs on the brave members of our armed forces by refusing to support an expansion of education benefits for them when they come home,” Hinchey said in a statement. ...

House Democrats were forced to postpone consideration of the measure after many Blue Dogs objected to the bill, saying a provision to provide education benefits for returning soldiers violates “pay-as-you-go” rules, which require offsetting new spending.

The veterans benefits package was estimated to cost $720 million for the first two years of the program.

Many Blue Dogs argued the GI benefits package was tantamount to creating a new entitlement program and thus should be offset, an argument that did not sit well with Hinchey, who has long opposed the Iraq war.

“This is a slap in the face to our servicemen and women who courageously risk their lives each day in Iraq and in Afghanistan,” Hinchey said.

“The idea that these benefits should be subject to pay-go is ridiculous,” Hinchey said in an interview. Instead, Hinchey argued that providing returning soldiers with a college education is an investment that will benefit the country far more than paying for reconstruction in Iraq. ...

“How can the Blue Dog coalition possibly say that an expansion of education benefits is too costly when their votes to spend hundreds of billions of dollars to fight in Iraq violate the same pay-as-you-go rules they claim to so deeply respect?”

The "fiscally conservative" Bloo Dawgs, among them Arkansas Rep. Mike Ross, not only didn't back down but pushed back. Ross pointed out that a number of Blue Dog caucus members are veterans.

I, for one, was less than impressed with their response, and found Hinchey's comments rather damning. On the scale of federal spending, this is penny wisdom and pound foolishness.

The $3 trillion (estimated cost to the U.S. -- read here) folly known as the Iraq war is arguably the most fiscally irresponsible thing our government has ever perpetrated. And the Blue Dogs are worried about $720 million over two years? That's chump change compared to what they've been complicit in.

But back to next year. Even if the Democrats have wishes come true in November, it's inevitable that many of the returning members of their House majority will be Blue Dog DINOs.

Republican obstruction could turn out to be among the least of the leadership's worries. This underscores the importance of primaries, and of electing real Democrats, not "fiscally responsible" poseurs.

Crossposted at Manifesto Joe.