The Blue Dogs have a different strategy: Instead of casting their lot with Republicans, they came up with their own seven-year budget plan. But the Blue Dogs included none of the $245 billion in tax cuts that are in the GOP plan, and they called for less severe reductions in projected spending for social programs. When the Blue Dog budget came to a vote this fall, only 68 House Democrats voted for it. But now their budget is gaining attention as a possible blueprint for compromise.
The White House objects to the Blue Dogs' budget on many points--such as its deeper cuts in domestic programs--but Clinton wants their votes for any deal that he might strike with the GOP. Clinton has said that he does not want to sign on to a budget deal unless it has the support of a substantial bloc of Democrats--as many as 100 of the House's 197-member Democratic caucus.
"The administration can't afford to make a deal that would have only 10 or 15 Democratic votes," said an aide to the House Democratic leadership. "It would look like they sold out to Republicans."
Top Clinton aides have been courting the Blue Dogs: saying kind things about their budget, asking their advice on negotiating with the GOP, pushing to get Stenholm a place on the budget negotiating team.
Republicans have begun their own courtship, saying that they are prepared to cut a deal with the Blue Dogs if negotiations with the White House break down.
If budget negotiations, which may resume today, show no signs of producing more than the partisan bickering that bogged down the first week of talks, the Blue Dogs may step up pressure on Clinton to get a deal.
Besides Stenholm, Orton and Condit, the Blue Dogs are: Scotty Baesler of Kentucky, Bill Brewster of Oklahoma, Glen Browder and Bud Cramer of Alabama, Pat Danner of Missouri, Pete Geren and Ralph M. Hall of Texas, Tim Holden of Pennsylvania, Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas, William O. Lipinski of Illinois, David Minge and Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, Charlie Rose of North Carolina, John Tanner of Tennessee, Gene Taylor of Mississippi, and Lewis F. Payne Jr., Norman Sisisky and Owen B. Pickett of Virginia.