The problem that fiscally conservative “Blue Dog” Democrats have in getting traction with their own party leadership in Congress was made abundantly clear last week when one key House leader dismissed them as “brain dead.”
“They’re for the most part, I hate to say brain dead, but they’re just looking to raise money from insurance companies and promote a right-wing agenda that is not really very useful in this whole process,” said Rep. Pete Stark, a California Democrat who chairs the health subcommittee of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.
Stark is known for his outspokenness, and he’s said some pretty outrageous things before. But in this case, his accusation that the Blue Dogs “just want to cause trouble” in the health care debate reflects a mindset that only helps validate the contention that congressional Democrats aren’t interested in an open and bipartisan process.
The Blue Dogs, Democratic leaders need to remind themselves, give the party its hefty majority in the House and its theoretical ability to do whatever it wants. But the Blue Dogs, unlike the liberal leadership, recognize the need for give-and-take on such a momentous issue as health care reform.
To dismiss their concerns about the cost implications and other elements of the House-passed bill as simply promoting a “right-wing agenda” is, to use Stark’s own words, “not really very useful,” to say the least.
Moderates are needed in both parties to help put the brakes on the excesses of both sides. Blue Dog Democrats – including Mississippians Travis Childers of the 1st Congressional District and Gene Taylor of the 4th – are serving a very useful purpose within their own party by forcing the leadership to examine its course more carefully.
A report last week by McClatchy News Service indicated that the Blue Dogs were significant recipients of campaign donations from the health care industry. But their cautious approach on health care reform is more a reflection of their moderate to conservative constituencies – and their own sense of political self-preservation – than any special interest influence, it would seem fair to say.
If anyone is brain dead from a political standpoint, it’s the Starks of the world who seem intent on plowing ahead with health care legislation conceived without significant bipartisan input. A forced-fed win on such legislation, even if it were to happen, would be a hollow victory inviting political backlash.
Minimally, Democratic leaders need to listen respectfully to the Blue Dogs’ concerns as the process continues. Stark’s comments clearly don’t pass even that minimal test.
NEMS Daily Journal