(Chris Chocola) – In the House of Representatives, the 54 members of the Blue Dog Coalition are the self-described fiscal conservatives in the Democratic caucus. Unfortunately, the description doesn’t fit.
Organizing into a coalition after the Republican takeover of the House in 1994, the Blue Dogs branded themselves loyal but conservative Democrats. They were, in the words of Rep. Pete Geren of Texas, yellow dogs who had been “choked blue” by the strident economic liberalism of their party leaders.
In their first Congress, the Blue Dogs mostly lived up to the hype (albeit in an economically conservative environment). In 1995, the average Blue Dog’s score on the National Taxpayers Union’s congressional score card—which measures how well members vote on matters of taxes, spending and debt—was 52%, while the average Democratic score was 28%.
Afterward, though, the Blue Dogs’ performance fell precipitously. Democrats retook the House in 2006, partly because of victories by Blue Dogs such as Brad Ellsworth in Indiana and Heath Shuler in North Carolina. Blue Dogs’ average NTU scores since then, during Nancy Pelosi’s first three years as House speaker, were 10%, 15% and 18%—hardly distinguishable from the average Democratic scores of 6%, 11% and 8%.
Every year since 2007, the Democratic advantage in the House has been fewer than the number of seats held by Blue Dogs: If they had wanted to, the Blue Dogs could have made themselves masters of the House. They could have held an effective veto over any bill they pleased, insisting that Mrs. Pelosi, Majority Leader Harry Reid and even President Obama himself heed their call for fiscal responsibility.
Instead, the Blue Dogs became Mrs. Pelosi’s lap dogs, voting with her 80% of the time on economic issues. Every one of them voted for the bailout of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Sixty-three percent voted for the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program; 91% voted for the stimulus package in February 2009; 85% voted for the cash-for-clunkers program; 74% voted for President Obama’s debt-tripling 2010 budget; 73% voted for the auto bailout; and 54% voted for the federal takeover of health care.
The evidence is overwhelming: The Blue Dogs are not fiscal conservatives, and only a few can credibly claim even to be fiscal moderates.
Consider the Blue Dogs’ signature legislative priority: “paygo,” the pay-as-you-go rule requiring the House to offset any new spending and tax cuts with spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere in the budget. In 2007, to much Blue Dog fanfare, House Democrats established paygo as a standing rule of the House.
Yet the House has since voted 31 times to grease the skids for new spending by waiving the paygo rule—and Blue Dogs supported the waivers 86% of the time. Five Blue Dogs have voted to waive paygo every single time.
The Blue Dog Coalition isn’t a vehicle to help conservative Democrats influence policy. It is a marketing brand to help vulnerable Democrats deceive voters.
If there is one thing voters dislike more than our fiscal crisis, it is the self-serving cynicism of their elected representatives. On both scores, the Blue Dogs are part of the problem, not the solution.
(Mr. Chocola is president of the Club for Growth. The Club for Growth is the nation’s leading group promoting economic freedom through legislative involvement, issue advocacy, research, and education.)