The Democrats have a chance to accomplish goals they’ve dreamed about since the New Deal. They have 60 seats in the Senate, and a commanding advantage in the House of Representatives. So if they fail to pass certain legislation, Republicans won’t be to blame; Democrats will.
This is particularly true for health care reform. Blue dog Mike Ross of Arkansas wrote “the Blue Dogs are committed to passing health care reform. However, reform that does not meet the President's goals of substantially bringing down costs is not an option.” In the Senate, moderates like Evan Bayh, Mary Landrieu, and Kent Conrad are wary of providing a public option, or voting for such a large bill.
Many of these Democrats have already expressed reservation about spending in the past few months. Bayh, for his part, said Obama’s first budget “represents an improvement from years past … [because] money we will borrow will fund important priorities like affordable health care, energy independence, job creation, and education improvements, rather than tax cuts for the most affluent.” But Bayh could not support it because “under this budget, our national debt skyrockets from $11.1 trillion today to an estimated $17 trillion in 2014.”
Early on, there was even some Democratic opposition to the stimulus. Eleven Democrats (including six blue dogs) voted against the final bill, citing concerns over cost. These concerns have become a recurrent theme as congress contemplated various spending measures.
With a huge deficit already, it’s difficult not to share their reservations about adding still more. Their concerns were bolstered this month when the CBO said the House bill would add $230 billion to the budget deficit over 10 years.
Of course, there are political calculations at play as well. Many of the Democrats raising concerns come from conservative districts and states that voted for McCain last fall. Their conservative-leaning constituents are concerned about the deficit. Voting for such a large bill could give their opponents an issue to use against them in the 2010 midterm elections.
For its part, the Democratic leadership is in a bind. They can try to cajole these Democrats into voting for the health reform bill by threatening to withhold pork or fundraising. But failing to support Democrats in these vulnerable districts could result in the election of a conservative Republican. Perhaps it’s better to have a Democrat with you 80% of the time, than a Republican who’s never with you, the leadership will reason.
This is not an insignificant development. Blue Dogs hold 52 seats in the Democratic caucus. Moderate Democrats hold the balance of power in the Senate. If even one moderate votes to allow a filibuster, then the Democrats cannot invoke cloture. Something tells me that the Democratic leadership will end up making substantial concessions to this group to keep them all on board.
Reid and Pelosi will do that to avoid a repeat of the 1990s failure. That time, Democrats failed to coalesce behind a single plan. When combined with universal Republican opposition, that fact doomed prospects for reform.
It would truly be disheartening for Democrats, if after so many so many years in the wilderness, they squander the huge mandate they now have because they can’t unite behind a bill. Expect conservative Democrats to hear this refrain often in the coming weeks, as the debate over health care reform intensifies.Powered by Sidelines