WASHINGTON — They helped propel the Democrats to victory in last week's election, and now the "Blue Dogs" want their reward: a decidedly conservative fiscal policy that begins with a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
The coalition of moderate and conservative House Democrats on Wednesday introduced nine members who were newly elected to Congress, bringing its numerical strength to 44. That's more than enough, if all 44 join with the Republican minority in January, to block the initiatives of the more liberal House leadership headed by Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco).
For much of the last 12 years, said Rep. Dennis Cardoza of Atwater, a coalition co-chairman, "it sometimes felt like the Blue Dogs were barking, but there was no one there to hear them. Clearly that is no longer the case. We have a new dog pound. Our bark is louder than ever."
Blue Dog Co-Chairman Jim Matheson of Utah said neither party could take the support of the coalition for granted. "Blue Dogs believe in partnership and not partisanship," he said.
Mike Ross of Arkansas, another Blue Dog leader, said the Democratic Party owed its success in the midterm election to the conservative Democrats who won many seats formerly held by Republicans. "Republicans did not lose their seats to liberal Democrats," Ross said. "Republicans lost their seats to Blue Dog Democrats, to conservative Democrats."
The Blue Dog Coalition was founded in 1995, a year after the election that cost the Democrats the majority they had enjoyed for decades. The name refers to the founding members' sense that they had been "choked blue" by extremists in both parties.
Today's Blue Dogs expressed satisfaction that Pelosi had included in her agenda for the first 100 hours of the new Congress the adoption of a rule requiring that all legislation to cut taxes or increase spending be accompanied by provisions that would prevent the deficit from growing.
Such a "pay-as-you-go" rule is No. 2 on the Blue Dogs' "12-point reform plan for restoring fiscal sanity," behind only the constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget.
The 12 points emphasize spending cuts over tax increases, although Cardoza said the Blue Dogs had not yet formulated a position on President Bush's request that Congress extend his first-term tax cuts, most of which expire after 2010.