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Thursday, January 22, 2009

The Blue Dogs: Threading a Sharp Needle

A few days ago, Michelle Malkin wrote a piece which mentioned a few different Democrats that were having misgivings about the stimulus package. In it, she quoted Blue Dog Democrat Heath Shuler of North Carolina.

Shuler, who twice voted against the $700 billion bank rescue and the bailout of the Big Three automakers, said he could support a stimulus package only with certain assurances.

“This can’t be a Christmas tree,” Shuler said. “It can’t be the pet projects of the House and Senate.”

Shuler said the money must go toward infrastructure construction and the expansion of broadband Internet access throughout the country. The bill should focus on job creation, he added.

“We want people to work,” he said. “We need to be building bridges. We need to be laying infrastructure.”But Shuler said the price tag of the stimulus package is high, and he is concerned about returning fiscal responsibility to Washington. He is a member of the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Caucus and was recently elected whip of the group.

Now, reading the article in context, I think that Malkin maybe making more of this than is there. Still, what Shuler is talking about here may lay the ground work for very difficult choices for himself and the rest of the group he is a part of known as the Blue Dog Democrats. The Blue Dogs are the most conservative sect of the Democratic Party and in fact, they are often more conservative than many Republicans.

More than any other group, it will be the Blue Dogs that will decide the future of this stimulus package. Under normal circumstances, such a stimulus package would be overwhelmingly opposed by the Blue Dogs. As a coalition they favor pay go which means any new spending would be offset by cuts elsewhere.

Of course, these aren't normal times. So, the Blue Dogs are stuck between one ideological principle, a very popular President, and a worsening economy with no simple answers. In order to understand what the Blue Dogs need to do, one needs to think, as a friend likes to say, fourth dimensionally. (the dimension of time) The Blue Dogs face one of two negative possibilites if they are wrong. Either they support this massive stimulus. That stimulus fails, and then they are attacked from their right in 2010 for supporting massive deficit spending that failed. Blue Dogs come from traditionally moderate or even conservative districts. Any Republican could run to their right effectively if such a scenario were to happen. Or, they could oppose the stimulus, have it work, and then be attacked from their left, in the primary, for opposing a popular President.

As such, there is plenty of danger in what they do with this stimulus. Because they number almost 50, the Blue Dogs can, as a coalition, decide the fate of the stimulus if they vote together. Unlike folks like Nancy Pelosi, the Blue Dogs are not ideologically alligned with massive government spending to stimulate the economy. Of course, their decisions are much more complicated than simple ideology.

First, these aren't normal times. Traditional beliefs maybe thrown out the window now. Second, we have a popular President ready for his first major piece of legislation. Opposing him now wins them little favor. Of course, if they go along now, and it fails, his current popularity would easily be used against them in the next election. It would be easy for a Republican to paint them as weak kneed go alongs with a popular President on legislation that ultimately failed. (if of course it does fail)

Furthermore, if they were to get minimal concessions on spending, such concessions would be of little consequences if this does fail. It's hard to imagine them winning any favors if they limited spending to say $750 billion if this stimulus fails to stimulate.

So, the Blue Dogs are caught in a very tricky legislative position. The answer is very unclear, however their moves forward will reverberate for them more than anyone come November 2010.

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