# Blue Dogs

How the election affected Braley's Populist Caucus

Now that Representative Bruce Braley has survived a Republican landslide despite a bucketload of money thrown at him, I thought I’d check to see how others in his House Populist Caucus fared on Tuesday.

Short story: the Populist Caucus lost five members. As a group, they fared better than the Blue Dogs or New Democrats, but not as well as the Progressive Caucus. The details are below.

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Reject Baucus' bill and take away his gavel

I’m no negotiating expert, but I know that if you’re not willing to walk away from a bad deal, no one will take your demands seriously.

Americans overwhelmingly want a public health insurance option and need that option for any number of reasons. Who you are and where you live strongly affects the kind of health insurance and health care you receive. Most Americans live in communities where one or two private companies dominate the health insurance market. Rural residents often have very limited access to health care providers. People of color also are shortchanged by our current system.

Despite all these problems, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus has done his best in recent weeks to show that The Onion was right about him eight years ago. Baucus has continued to pursue a bipartisan agreement on health care containing a fake public option.

It’s time to cut Baucus off, and a great idea floated by Iowa’s own Senator Tom Harkin offers part of the solution. (continues after the jump)

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RNC Targeting Boswell (again)

(No time like the present for progressives to call Congressman Boswell's office advocating health care reform with a strong public option. Boswell's official website explains his primary concerns on health care. - promoted by desmoinesdem)

Politico's Ben Smith posted a list of conservative House Democrats who will be targeted by a new RNC radio ad on healthcare. The list includes IA-03's Leonard Boswell.

Text of the ad:

Most Americans agree. It’s time to take action to reform our healthcare system. But the dangerous experiment President Obama and the Democrats in Congress want just can’t be the right answer. The question is what Congressman Boswell will do.

Look at their record. The stimulus package cost us hundreds of billions without creating new jobs. The national debt has more than doubled.

If Barack Obama and the Democrats get their way, the Federal Government will make the decisions about your health care. And, their plan costs a trillion dollars we don’t have. You have to pay a new tax to keep your private insurance. It’s too much, too fast.

Call Congressman Boswell at 202-225-3121, that’s 202-225-3121 and tell him to say no to this dangerous experiment.

Of course, the quote “Most Americans agree. It's time to take action to reform our healthcare system” is not followed by any Republican proposal or idea to actually fix healthcare. I hope Boswell doesn't cave on this, and it's heartening to know that he still supports a public option. Boswell's support is an apparent break with other members of the Blue Dog Coalition, whose opposition to a public option was deconstructed in this Paul Krugman article yesterday.

Obama's budget splits Iowa delegation on party lines

The U.S. House of Representatives approved President Barack Obama’s proposed $3.55 trillion 2010 budget on Thursday by a vote of 233 to 196. As you can see from the roll call, all three Democrats representing Iowa voted for the budget: Bruce Braley (IA-01), Dave Loebsack (IA-02), and Leonard Boswell (IA-03). Every House Republican voted against Obama’s budget, including Tom Latham (IA-04) and Steve King (IA-05).

Twenty House Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the budget (Dennis Kucinich plus a minority of the Blue Dog caucus). But it’s notable that most Blue Dogs, like Boswell, supported this budget. Obama has met twice with the Blue Dog caucus this year, most recently on March 30.

House Republicans offered an alternative budget proposal with all kinds of crazy ideas in it, like privatizing Medicare, giving the wealthy more tax cuts, and freezing most non-defense discretionary federal spending. As you can see from the roll call, Tom Latham was among the 28 Republicans who joined House Democrats in voting down the GOP budget alternative. Steve King was among the 137 Republicans who voted yes.

White House officials were right to mock the GOP’s budget alternative as a “joke.” Freezing federal spending is a good way to turn a severe economic recession into a depression.

Soon after the House budget vote, I received press releases from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee slamming Latham and King for voting against a wide range of tax cuts contained in the budget resolution. I’ve posted those after the jump.

I suspect that the the DCCC is not putting out statements attacking the House Democrats who voted against the budget, and I’m seeking a comment from their communications staff about whether my hunch is correct. DCCC chair Chris Van Hollen warned on Thursday that liberal groups supporting primary challengers against unreliable House Democrats could cost the party seats in 2010. I wonder why we are supposed to look the other way when members of our own party take positions that the DCCC finds atrocious in House Republicans.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate approved a 2010 budget resolution late on Thursday after a nearly 12-hour marathon of votes on various amendments. David Waldman (formerly known as Kagro X) gives you the play-by-play from yesterday’s Senate action at Congress Matters. The final vote in the Senate was 55-43 (roll call here). Iowa’s Tom Harkin voted yes, along with all Senate Democrats except for Evan Bayh of Indiana and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who voted with Republicans, and Robert Byrd of West Virginia, who did not vote. The 41 Senate Republicans, including Iowa’s Chuck Grassley, voted no.

CNN went over the key similarities and differences between the House and Senate budget resolutions. Most important difference, in my opinion:

[House Democrats] also included language that allows for the controversial procedure called “budget reconciliation” for health care, a tool that would limit debate on major policy legislation.

Senate Democrats did not include reconciliation in their version of the budget. The matter is guaranteed to be a major partisan sticking point when the two chambers meet to hammer out a final version of next year’s spending plan. If it passes, it would allow the Senate to pass Obama’s proposed health care reform without the threat of a Republican-led Senate filibuster.

Notably, both the House and Senate budget bills “do away with Obama’s request for an additional $250 billion, if needed, in financial-sector bailout money.” Thank goodness for that.

Any comments or speculation regarding federal tax or spending policies are welcome in this thread.

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New PAC vows to hold Democratic incumbents accountable

That’s the mission of the Accountability Now PAC:

“We need members of Congress to leave the bubble of Washington, D.C. and stand with their constituents,” said Jane Hamsher, founder of Firedoglake.com and co-founder of Accountability Now. “We need members of Congress to ask the tough questions about continued Wall Street bailouts that reward the donor class, two wars without seeming end, the ceaseless assault on our civil liberties, and other issues that separate the citizenry from the DC cocoon.”

“Accountability Now is an organization built around a single guiding principle: challenging the institutional power structures that make it so easy, so consequence-free for Congress to open up the government coffers for looting by corporate America while people across the country are losing their jobs and their basic constitutional rights while unable to afford basic health care,” said Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com and co-founder of Accountability Now. “Accountability Now believes that members of Congress in both parties need to hear from their constituents, and that nothing focuses the mind of a politician on listening to citizens better than a primary.”

“Accountability Now PAC will recruit, coordinate, and support primary challenges against vulnerable Congressional incumbents who have become more responsive to corporate America than to their constituents,” said Accountability Now’s new Executive Director, Jeff Hauser. “By empowering the grassroots, Accountability Now will help create the political space needed to enable President Obama to make good on the many progressive policies he campaigned on – such as getting out of Iraq, ensuring access to affordable health care for every man, woman and child, restoring our constitutional liberties and ending torture.”

In 2007, grassroots activists banded together to oust Al Wynn out of office, and it shook House Democrats to their core. Similarly, we learned in 2006 how even a primary challenge that does not win could change behavior, as Jane Harman has been more accountable to the concerns of her constituents after a tough primary race against Marcy Winograd.

Out of these recent lessons, diverse and politically powerful groups have decided to support Accountability Now’s efforts, such as MoveOn, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), DailyKos, ColorOfChange.org, and Democracy for America, 21st Century Democrats and BlogPAC.

On principle, I agree with the goals of this PAC. Like some guy once said, “the system in Washington is rigged and our government is broken. It’s rigged by greedy corporate powers to protect corporate profits. […] We cannot replace a group of corporate Republicans with a group of corporate Democrats […]”

However, I won’t get excited about the Accountability Now PAC until I learn more about the criteria it will use to determine which Democratic incumbents are “bad enough” to be primaried, and which primary challengers are “good enough” to be endorsed.

To my knowledge, Democracy for America was the only organization in the Accountability Now PAC that helped Ed Fallon in last year’s primary in Iowa’s third district (a D+1 district represented by Blue Dog Leonard Boswell).

How would someone thinking about a primary challenge know whether he or she is likely to get full support, like Donna Edwards in MD-04, or almost nothing, like Fallon?

Speaking of Democracy for America, it’s not too late to RSVP for their training academy in Des Moines on February 28 and March 1. Come meet noneed4thneed while you learn to be a more effective grassroots activist.

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Will Blue Dog power decline in the next Congress? (updated)

Many a bad bill has passed the U.S. House of Representatives with the votes of Republicans and Democratic “Blue Dogs.” These representatives call themselves “moderates” or “centrists,” and you often find them voting with corporate interests, against the majority of the House Democratic caucus, when the chips are down.

This Washington Post article about the upcoming debate over an economic stimulus bill cites Representative Baron Hill of Indiana as “incoming co-chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition, a caucus of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats.”

Hill wants the economic stimulus money to go toward road and bridge construction, whereas others would like to see more of the money spent on “green jobs” and infrastructure projects that are more environmentally friendly than building new roads. Progressives would like to spend the transportation money on fixing our existing roads and bridges while expanding public transit and rail.

Friends of the Earth has launched a campaign to “keep the economic stimulus clean”:

Transportation in the U.S. is responsible for 30 percent of our global warming pollution and 70 percent of our oil consumption. We cannot solve the energy and climate challenge without making our transportation system far cleaner and more efficient.

President-elect Obama and the congressional leadership are moving quickly to pass an economic stimulus package that creates green jobs with a new, clean energy infrastructure. Public transportation, smart growth and green transportation alternatives are a crucial part of this effort.

Unfortunately, the road-building lobby is attempting to hijack this bill and divert billions of dollars to the construction of new, unnecessary roads, highways and bridges that would deepen our nation’s dependence on oil and increase greenhouse gas emissions.

Click here for more details about the economic and environmental consequences of letting new road construction dominate the stimulus bill.

Getting back to the title of this diary, Matt Stoller read that Washington Post piece about debates over the stimulus and was intrigued to learn that Hill claims 51 members for the Blue Dog Coalition:

Last session, there were 49 Blue Dogs, and during the election season the caucus continually bragged about how they would add a substantial number of new members in 2009.  Still, their PAC didn’t give to very many Democratic candidates, two Blue Dogs lost reelection, and a bunch of their candidate prospects lost.  If it’s true that the Blue Dogs have only increased their number by 2, and I’m not sure it is, then they really are far weaker in the House than they were from 2006-2008.  There are 257 Democrats in the next Congress and 178 Republicans.  While the Blue Dogs are still a swing bloc, they only have 11 votes to give.  That’s not very many, considering that this number assumes all Republicans always vote with the Blue Dogs.  If Republicans split off from their caucus on certain votes, even small numbers of Republicans, then Blue Dog priorities are far less likely to matter overall.

Leonard Boswell (IA-03) is the only Iowa Democrat in the Blue Dog group. Once the new House convenes, it will be interesting to see how the Blue Dogs compare in number to the Progressive Caucus, which had 71 members in the last Congress, including Dave Loebsack (IA-02). My hunch is that the Progressive Caucus will add a lot more new members than the Blue Dogs.

After the new year I’ll try to find out how many members Bruce Braley (IA-01) was able to recruit to the Populist Caucus he is forming.

Whether or not Blue Dog power declines in the House, it may be on the rise in the Senate. Senator Evan Bayh of Indiana is setting up a Blue Dog caucus in the upper chamber. Although Senate Majority leader Harry Reid’s spokesman claims Reid is “upbeat” about Bayh’s plans, it’s likely that the Senate Blue Dogs will collude with Republicans to obstruct Barack Obama’s agenda.

Matthew Yglesias advanced a very plausible hypothesis about Bayh’s move:

With Republicans out of power, the GOP can’t really block progressive change in exchange for large sums of special interest money. That creates an important market niche for Democrats willing to do the work. It was a good racket for the House Blue Dogs in 2007-2008 and there’s no reason it couldn’t work for Senate analogues over the next couple of years.

Let’s hope the memory of the 1994 Republican landslide will induce conservative Democrats not to block most of Obama’s agenda. The Democrats who ran Congress in 1993 and 1994 wanted to show Bill Clinton who was boss, but the effect was to make Democrats look incompetent, depressing Democratic base turnout in 1994 and turning swing voters toward the Republicans.

On the other hand, I would not underestimate the Blue Dogs’ willingness to do what big money wants, whether or not it’s good for the Democratic Party.

Share any relevant thoughts in the comments.

UPDATE: Kagro X notes that the Progressive Caucus seems to be a more cohesive voting bloc than the Blue Dogs, which is surprising.

Meanwhile, Chris Bowers argues persuasively than the Blue Dogs have achieved little on their alleged signature issue of “fiscal responsibility”:

If the Blue Dogs only exist in order to promote “fiscal responsibility,” isn’t it pretty clear that, rather than getting their way, they have actually failed across the board over the last eight years? From the Bush tax cuts, to soaring deficits, to making exceptions for war, to making exceptions for bailouts, to making exceptions to stimulus packages, the Blue Dogs have completely and utterly failed at their stated primary policy area and done so at every available opportunity.

The only actual successes of the Blue Dogs appear to be the [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] re-write and blank check funding for Iraq. It is notable that 38 of the 47 Blue Dogs voted in favor of both these measures, which jointly render a member a “Bush Dog” in Open Left’s terminology. Given that 70 House members voted in favor of both those measures, the Democratic defectors on those issues were clearly spearheaded by the Blue Dogs.

Mainly, I am impressed that Blue Dogs keep earning press that describes them as fiscally responsible and wildly powerful, when the record shows otherwise. When offered opportunities to actually clamp down on spending over the last two years, the Blue Dogs have balked at every turn, favoring blank check funding for Iraq, blank check funding for the bailout, and massive funding for the economic stimulus. That a group of House members can do all of this and still be described as both “fiscally responsible” and “powerful” is pretty impressive. Maybe what we progressives really need is to hire the Blue Dogs’ PR people.

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Braley was a strong supporter of Waxman

One of the most encouraging post-election developments was the House Democratic caucus’s vote yesterday to put Representative Henry Waxman in charge of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

It turns out that Iowa’s own Bruce Braley was a strong advocate for Waxman:

Waxman was generally respectful of [John] Dingell in his speech before the caucus, according to people who were in the room, but he took a few sharp jabs at the chairman. Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, who gave one of Waxman’s nominating speeches, went a step further, lashing out at Dingell for standing in the way of environmental reforms. He even complained that the speaker had to go around him to enact a renewable energy bill during the Democrats’ first year in power.

It’s important to note that just a week ago, Dingell was widely expected to hold on to the powerful committee chairmanship. Reid Wilson of Politics Nation blog observed,

Politics Nation is told Iowa Rep. Bruce Braley, just elected to his second term, made an impassioned speech on Waxman’s behalf, blaming Dingell for blocking progress on a number of bills. Braley has been involved in the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, co-chairing the Frontline program, but it’s still unusual to see such a junior member of congress question a more senior member, especially one who was serving his second term in Congress when Braley was born.

Braley took a big risk for a good cause, and progressives should thank him for that.

Some of Dingell’s supporters seemed to value Congressional protocol more than getting the job done under a new president. Here’s Representative Charles Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee:

“I have enjoyed the seniority system,” Rangel said. “It wasn’t broken.”

Actually, the system was broken if the narrow interests of Michigan manufacturers were repeatedly allowed to block legislation that’s in the national interest. Waxman’s primary goal was not to destroy the seniority system. If Dingell hadn’t been standing in the way of good environmental and energy policies for so many years, this challenge never would have happened.

This report from The Hill is worth reading in full, but here’s an excerpt:

And supporters of a more aggressive approach to climate change and more aggressive regulation were encouraged. Dingell was a chief advocate of automakers and was slow to warm up to Pelosi’s call for restrictions to limit climate change.

“I think it will be easier,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said of global warming restrictions. “I think anyone who’s watched the last couple of years would conclude it will happen more quickly and more smoothly. [Waxman] is better positioned to guide that.”

Supporters also said they wanted swifter implementation of the agenda of the Democratic Party and Obama.

Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), a Waxman ally for years, said Waxman supporters were mindful of 1993 and 1994 when Democrats controlled Congress and the White House for two years, then lost Congress in a dramatic fashion.

“The memory of ’93 and ’94 was seared into our minds,” Berman said. “We have to pass the program. The question was how that could best be done.”

I couldn’t agree more on both the substance and the politics of this decision.

The Hill also reported that the conservative Blue Dogs are very upset by yesterday’s vote, which they view as a “California takeover.” It does not mention Congressman Leonard Boswell, who is a member of the Blue Dog group.

I contacted the offices of Boswell and Representatives Dave Loebsack to inquire about their position on Waxman v. Dingell. I have not yet heard back from Loebsack’s press secretary. Boswell’s press secretary cut me off without letting me finish my question and refused to call me back, as usual.

I do find it amusing that Boswell’s press secretary in Washington still freezes me out. Even at the height of the third district primary battle, the press secretary from Boswell’s Congressional campaign headquarters in Des Moines had no problem sending me press releases and responding to my queries.  

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The odds in favor of a good climate change bill just improved

An earthquake hit Capitol Hill today, as the House Democratic caucus voted 137 to 122 to make Representative Henry Waxman of California chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He will replace Representative John Dingell of Michigan, who has served in the House for more than 50 years (after his father represented the same district for more than two decades).

Dingell has been the top Democrat on the panel for 28 years and is an old-school supporter of the auto industry. Waxman has complained that the committee has been too slow to address environmental issues like global warming.

“The argument we made was that we needed a change for the committee to have the leadership that will work with this administration and members in both the House and the Senate in order to get important issues passed in health care, environmental protection, in energy policy,” Waxman said after the vote.

“The next two years are critical,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., who spoke on Waxman’s behalf in the closed-door caucus. “It’s not personal. It’s about the American people demanding that we embrace change and work with the president on critical issues of climate change and energy and health care.”

This is more important than the Senate Democrats caving to Joe Lieberman on Tuesday.

It’s an excellent sign that the new Congress will be serious about progressive change. I had read yesterday that freshman Democrats were overwhelmingly for Waxman, while the Blue Dogs and Congressional Black Caucus were mostly for Dingell.

It’s unfortunate that Dingell has spent several decades trying to shield the big three American automakers from government regulation on fuel efficiency and other matters. If he had not “protected” them for so long, maybe U.S.-made cars would be more desirable for more consumers, and the automakers would not be on the brink of bankruptcy.

Of course, our employer-based health care system is another major drag on American manufacturers. With any luck we will be able to help uninsured Americans and major industry at the same time by passing universal health care reform.

Congratulations to Waxman for taking the first step in what will no doubt be a long slog.

UPDATE: A Siegel is encouraged by Obama’s speech to the recent bipartisan governors’ summit on climate change. Click the link for more details and the text of the speech.

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Tell Leonard Boswell to give more to the DCCC

I haven’t written much about Leonard Boswell since the Democratic primary for the third Congressional district, because there hasn’t been much to say. He hasn’t been campaigning much, nor has he needed to. IA-03 is not a competitive House district according to any of the people who follow Congressional races closely (for instance, Swing State Project, the Cook Report and Open Left).

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) spent money to defend Boswell in 2004 and 2006 but hasn’t seen the need for that this year.

So I was more than a little annoyed to receive a fundraising solicitation from Dody Boswell this week:

Dear Friends,

First, thank you all for your support with Leonard’s campaign.  I know we’ve all been working hard for the last few months and now we only have 50 days to go!  It’s great to know so many of you have already gone online to donate.

It is truly with urgency, that I need to ask you again to help out my husband.  The election is closing in and we need to raise enough money to buy some media for the last few weeks of the campaign.  We also have the reporting deadline in two weeks on September 30 and need to show the press that we have the funds to compete.

Our goal is within reach and I know if everyone donated at least forty-two more dollars we will make that goal!!!  You can donate at www.boswellforcongress.com or click on the link below.


I can personally tell you how hard Leonard works for us.  And that he appreciates everything that you do to allow him to continue his efforts on our behalf in Washington.

I thank you so very much,


PS – Your small contribution of $42 really will make all the difference!

Boswell for Congress

P.O. Box 6220

Des Moines, IA 50309

Excuse me, Boswell needs “to show the press that we have the funds to compete”?

As of June 30, Boswell had $393,852 on hand, while little-known Republican challenger Kim Schmett had $28,768. Boswell has held several fundraisers since then.

He should not be asking constituents for more money. He should be handing over a large chunk of his campaign account to the DCCC so they can use it to play for more Republican-held seats and to defend truly vulnerable incumbents (the way the DCCC helped Boswell in past years).

You can reach Boswell’s Congressional office at (202)225-3806.

You can reach his campaign headquarters at (515)883-2254 or Campaign@BoswellForCongress.com.

Tell his staff that you want him to give at least 10 percent of his campaign’s cash on hand to the DCCC.

For more on this year’s Use It or Lose It campaign, read this post by Lucas O’Connor. If every safe House incumbent handed over 10 percent of his or her campaign account, the DCCC would have an additional $8.3 million to use in competitive races.

On a different subject, I called Boswell’s Congressional office yesterday and was told he did not have any statement yet on the bailout proposal. What do you want to bet he was among the Blue Dogs who urged Nancy Pelosi today to move toward the position of the Bush administration and corporate lobbyists?

I’ll fill in that oval next to Boswell’s name on the ballot, but he won’t get a dime from me.

I’m giving as much as I can afford to Rob Hubler and Becky Greenwald.

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