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Tilting at Windmills

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December 13, 2008

THAT DOG SHOULDN'T HUNT.... In the House, the political calculus on major initiatives is a three-part dynamic: Republicans, Democrats, and a caucus of right-leaning Democrats in the "Blue Dog Coalition." In the 110th Congress, Dems were more often hampered by GOP obstructionism and presidential vetoes, but the presence of nearly 50 "fiscally conservative" Democrats often limited the options of the party's leadership.

The complication is apparently set to expand. Roll Call reported last night that Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) intends to form a group of "moderate" Democratic senators based "loosely on the House Blue Dog Coalition. "

"I think we have a wonderful opportunity to break the gridlock that has existed in Washington for too long," Bayh said in an interview. "We need to do that in practical ways that will solve problems. The place that will be most important in striking that right balance will be in the Senate."

Bayh, who has spoken with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) about his initiative, said he is trying to create a faction of moderate Senators who will gather on a weekly basis ahead of the usual Tuesday Democratic Caucus meetings.

Additionally, Bayh envisions inviting outside speakers to address the group, which would also work in concert with third parties that have similar viewpoints, like the Third Way, a nonpartisan progressive think tank.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's office said Reid "welcomes Sen. Bayh's decision to form this group," as part of the broader effort in "restoring our nation's fiscal and economic health."

I'm not nearly as encouraged. In the House, the Blue Dogs are not only overly cozy with corporate lobbyists, this is a coalition reluctant to embrace a progressive vision on issues like climate change, and committed to a financial plan focused on spending reductions and balanced budgets -- precisely when the federal government needs to be doing the opposite.

That Bayh wants a similar group working in the Senate is discouraging, to put it mildly.

Steve Benen 12:10 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (45)

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Steve's take absolutely right here. Nancy, for example, has disappointed on a series of fronts (such as not controlling the loathsome Steny-Who-Must-Provide=Bush-With-Whatever-He-Wants-On-FISA), but she's has been boxed in by the Blue Dogs. Their numbers and official membership in the Democratic Party made the 110th a Democratic majority Congress but they are completely unreliable as voting Democrats for obvious good things the country needs. And will Reid at all manage Bayh? Maybe on another planet.

Posted by: SF on December 13, 2008 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Bayh's group may have worked if it brings in moderate Republicans as well but since it doesn't I'm not sure what it will end up doing.

Posted by: CarlP on December 13, 2008 at 12:23 PM | PERMALINK

Won't Harry be one of these 'moderates'? Based on his efforts to date, including his failure to confront the senators who decided that they would be happy to kill Detroit if they couldn't kill the UAW and force them to stand up and be counted as enemies of our economy. I wanted Reid to force Shelby to tell us why he hates Detroit and how much the foreign manufacturers had to be paid to work in his state. Reid capitulated.

Posted by: freelunch on December 13, 2008 at 12:26 PM | PERMALINK

For all you people who want parliamentary elections with a multi-party system, this is a de facto multi-party system. How does it feel?

Posted by: Anthony on December 13, 2008 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

That Bayh wants a similar group working in the Senate is discouraging, to put it mildly.

I concur. But that the ineffective Bayh is the one putting such a group together is encouraging...for it suggests that the entire effort will go nowhere.

Posted by: Big River Bandido on December 13, 2008 at 12:44 PM | PERMALINK

Can we start a pool on who will join the new Liebercrat Club, at least the founding members? I'll say Bayh, Landrieu, Pryor, Salazar, Ben and Bill, Inouye, and Casey. Feinstein as honorary chair.

Posted by: Jim on December 13, 2008 at 12:45 PM | PERMALINK

I tend to go easy on the "Blue Dogs" because, basically, they're representing THEIR constituents.
I think in many cases their districts would elect Republicans if not given a more conservative-Democratic alternative. And, I'd sure as hell rather have that little "D" after their names!

Our party has to be the Big Tent party. I know it's tough on moderate and progressive Dems like most of the people reading and participating on this blog, but I think the Jon Testers and other western/midwestern Dems are voting the way they were sent to Congress to vote.

Posted by: phoebes in santa fe on December 13, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

If the Dems are as dim in the next Congress as they have been in the current one - and with Reid and Pelousy that's quite likely - the grassroots are likely to rebel. As much as I dislike machine or party politics, the Dems have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to show their stuff. If it turns out they haven't any then wecome, President Jeb Bush.

Posted by: rich on December 13, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Anthony, I still stand behind a multiparty parliamentary system.

First, the Religious Right would have to put up or shut up on settling for the back of the hand from the GOP. Second, left-liberal parties, and the Libertarians for that matter, would have more of a shot, especially if we used a National List for part of Congressional elections.

Second, parliamentary government would get us away from "presidentialism," which is the worst part of our government as it now stands.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 13, 2008 at 1:19 PM | PERMALINK

Jim, Sen. Betty Crocker (Feinstein - compare pics!) would be the social hostess.


Freelunch: Yes, but this now gives Harry a new scapegoat!


Steve Benen: What the hell else WAS Reid going to say? This was presented as a fait accompli.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 13, 2008 at 1:24 PM | PERMALINK

"I think we have a wonderful opportunity to break the gridlock that has existed in Washington for too long," Bayh said in an interview.

1992-2002: Majority Democrats get little accomplished due to Blue Dog Democrats teaming up with Republicans. Result - gridlock.

2002-2006: Majority Republicans steamroll large quantities of bad legislation over minority Democrats with the additional help of Blue Dog Democrats. Result - no gridlock; Epic Fail.

2006-Present: Majority Democrats get little accomplished due to Blue Dog Democrats teaming up with Republicans. Result - gridlock.

Now - WTF is Bayh talking about?

Posted by: Michael on December 13, 2008 at 1:27 PM | PERMALINK

It just sounds like the creation of another think tank to me, and experience suggests nobody pays any attention to their conclusions unless the conclusion supports what they themselves have already decided.

Posted by: Mark on December 13, 2008 at 1:34 PM | PERMALINK

... but I think the Jon Testers and other western/midwestern Dems are voting the way they were sent to Congress to vote.

Montanans elected a Democrat to crack down on midwestern unions? And that's something the rest of us should have to live with because...???

Posted by: junebug on December 13, 2008 at 1:37 PM | PERMALINK

Those K-Street project lobbyists aren't hiring Dems for nothing.

Posted by: Danp on December 13, 2008 at 1:46 PM | PERMALINK

Did anyone really think Wall Street was going to just roll over for Barack Obama in the White House and Democratic party control of the House and Senate? Are you nuts? Do you think that elections really have consequences?

Wall Street "owns" enough of the Congress that it is going to be incredibly tough sledding to pass and implement truly progressive policies. The good news is that Obama is filling his staff with people who - while not hard left progressives - know how to pass legislation. . . This is going to be really really nasty.

Posted by: Wisconsin Reader on December 13, 2008 at 1:55 PM | PERMALINK

By all means, let's "break the gridlock" by forming a group like the one that's most responsible for the gridlock in the other chamber!

I'm glad I never bought into the "Bayh's not so bad" line during the VP speculation...

Posted by: Redshift on December 13, 2008 at 2:18 PM | PERMALINK

Wait. A coalition of moderate Senate Democrats that cooperates to undermine or derail any progressive legislation? Don't we have that already?

Posted by: biggerbox on December 13, 2008 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Well, we apparently have to create a Republican majority somehow. I guess this is a good way to do it. Why is it that the Republicans can control the Senate with 41 seats, but we can't control it with 59?

Posted by: fostert on December 13, 2008 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Is there a Progressive Caucus in either the House or the Senate? Maybe the Progressive Caucus could meet AFTER the Blue Dogs and BEFORE the entire caucus?

As always, the answer is not to complain but to organize.

Posted by: Cal Gal on December 13, 2008 at 2:38 PM | PERMALINK

I consider myself reasonably well informed on the issues, but the blue dogs' connection to lobbyists was news to me. Why not get the word out and see if they won't be a little more cooperative?

Posted by: CDW on December 13, 2008 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

Er, yes, there is a progressive caucus in the House.

In the Senate there generally aren't such things, because there aren't very many real liberals (or real Conservative Democrats, for that matter) in the Senate.

Posted by: John on December 13, 2008 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

Several Senators in the 111th Congress will be former members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus when they were in the House - Sherrod Brown, Tom Udall, and Bernie Sanders (who is apparently still a member, even though he's now a Senator)

Posted by: John on December 13, 2008 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Bayh's group may have worked if it brings in moderate Republicans as well...

Blue Dog Democrats are what used to be called moderate Republicans. This is happening because all the conservatives who aren't insane have by now switched parties.

Posted by: dr sardonicus on December 13, 2008 at 3:32 PM | PERMALINK

That there would be this sort of coalition was expectable. The Republicans have brought themselves to total irrelevancy -- not to say insanity -- and there needs to be a new 'center-right' party. There will always be disagreements, honest ones, about the path we should be taking, and this sort of group ius likely to bring over the 'better Republicans' the Leachs and Rudmans, the Grassleys and Specters, and the like, and leave the Bachmans, the Kings, the Dreiers, the Cunninghams, the MacDonalds, the Inhofes, and the DeMints behind, hoping to gather under the banner of Sarah Palin.

As a Progressive, I want to see the country move in my direction, but -- while I have no doubts that Obama can deal with this -- I'm worried about his successor unless there is an honorable, sane alternative to keep watch.

(As for Socratic Gadfly's multi-party Parliamentary system, these historically don't work. Either you get a situation like what happened in France, where party names moved to the left as the parties moved to the right -- where, as happened, the 'Radical Socialists' were, in fact, about the equivalent of 'moderate Republicans.' Or, much more likely, the groups representing minorities, particularly religious or ethnic minorities, will have power far above their numbers because they are the swing votes and can bring the Parliament to a stop unless appeased -- see Israel, in particular, but also India and 'between the wars' Yugoslavia for examples.

(In fact, I can't think of any country where this type of parliamentary structure has worked well, can anyone?)

As far as the 'traditional' Parliamentary structure, with two or three main 'big tent' parties, but struct party discipline, etc. Well, Gingrich tried that, and the pathetic Congress of 2005-2007 showed the inevitable place that leads, at least here. If the only thing that matters is Party affiliation and party-line votes, there is no reason to screen out the corrupt or the howling idiots (Hi, Michelle, Steve King).

Posted by: Prup (aka Jim Benton) on December 13, 2008 at 3:33 PM | PERMALINK

Whoever mentioned the probably members - You forgot Carper who has no reason to be a moderate. I can understand Landrieu,Pryor and the Nebraska Nelson because of their red state status. Feinstein, Carper and Lieberjerk have no reason to be moderate and even more so now because they have zero chance at going any further in their careers. DiFi is dreaming if she thinks she's got a chance at being governor of CA. BTW I was pleasantly surprised by Casey this campaign season and on this auto bailout issue. He sounded positively progressive.

Posted by: warren terrah on December 13, 2008 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

CDW - All congressmen have connections to lobbyists. That's not necessarily a bad thing, as these people are technically merely representatives for groups with legitimate interests. In the '90's, the Republicans under Delay, Gingrich, etc. decided that Republicans would only deal with Republican lobbyists. That was the K Street Project. At the time Republicans were gaining in both houses of Congress. By 2001, Republicans had a virtual monopoly in government, and many of these firms virtually eliminated Dem lobbyists. But now, with changing times, they are starting to hire Dems.

That doesn't necessarily mean they are now representing environmental groups or labor unions. What it does mean is that oil, defense contractors, etc. need to find Dems they can influence. It won't be Bernie Sanders or Barbara Boxer they reach out to. It will be the DLC types, like Bayh, Lieberman and Landrieu.

The thing to watch for in this new group is whether they include people like Webb, Tester and Baucus, who are by nature conservative, or those DLC-type pragmatists, who talk like liberals when they run for office, but take oddly conservative positions where big business is concerned.

Posted by: Danp on December 13, 2008 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

Mark Warner made forming such a group part of his campaign fundraising appeal. There's a lot of appetite among big donors for Democrats who kick the left.

Posted by: david on December 13, 2008 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

This post along with the article in the NYT about Sen. Schumer convinces me that we progressives should stop being used by these Democrats in name only. They want our votes, money and time but only serve the wealthy once elected. The article about Schumer reveals him as the "no regulation type" who now wants you to bailout the same people who caused this financial meltdown.

Posted by: TNB on December 13, 2008 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

Blue Dog Democrats are what used to be called moderate Republicans.

In some cases, sure, but most Blue Dogs are Southern Democrats, who have always been conservative. A lot of the others are from working class, traditionally Democratic areas outside the south that are socially conservative.

Moderate Republicans come from places like New England and New York and the Upper Northwest and so forth, where Blue Dogs are, for the most part, pretty light on the ground. Most moderate Republicans have been replaced by liberal or mainstream Democrats.

By the numbers - 40% of the Blue Dogs are from the South (20 out of 50 in the 110th). A pretty large number of the rest come from places that would otherwise elect very conservative Republicans - people like Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota, or Brad Ellsworth of Indiana, or Jim Matheson of Utah. That's about another 15 (30%).

That leaves only about 15 (30%) coming from places where you might otherwise expect to see a moderate Republican - people like Mike Michaud or Jane Harman or Melissa Bean or Patrick Murphy.

Blue Dogs are a distinct thing from erstwhile moderate Republicans.

Posted by: John on December 13, 2008 at 5:32 PM | PERMALINK

What worries me about this "formation" is that, if they label themselves "moderate", then everyone who doesn't join them will, by default, be considered "immoderate" -- the "raging left". Which, to us, may be obvious BS (if majority of them were any more "moderate" than they already are, they'd be "weak tea") but, I expect, that's the label that'll be stuck to them by the pundicks.

Posted by: exlibra on December 13, 2008 at 6:15 PM | PERMALINK

I normally would be heartened by this news, but Bayh is such a pathetic weenie I can't imagine what influence this group will try to assert other then "sternly worded letters" and whining in front of the press about supposed Republican transgressions.

Posted by: wagonjak on December 13, 2008 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

Senator Reid is a mormon, not moron, but mormon. Don't expect much from him. He was for amnesty of illegal immigrants.

Why does this matter, if you look at Utah, Colorado, these states recruited illegal immigrants for cheap labor.

Mormons don't spend money freely. The kids you see on the bicycles, or walking with the white shirts, black pants, black ties canvassing the neighborhoods are missionaries.

These young missionaries have to save up money before being allowed to go on missions. They pay the mormon church/member for rent and have to pay for all living costs.

To me, that's a scam. The biggest scam of all.

If they're doing business for God or the Church, why don't the donations/tithes pay for these kids?

Posted by: Annjell on December 13, 2008 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Well, corporate money has to go somewhere, and when Democrats are in charge, it's their turn to cash in. And plus, the Arabs aren't going to bomb themselves. (Well, some, actually, but not nearly fast enough for some).

Posted by: flubber on December 13, 2008 at 7:41 PM | PERMALINK


Now wait just a cotton picking minute, you and your fellow GOPers actually believe some of the crap coming out of your mouthes.

You guys are always meddling in other people's lives, business.

You want to tell people how to live in the bedroom - no abortions, no fornication, no adultery, no same-sex relationships, who can marry.

You want to tell people who can work, how much they can make, who to work for.

You want to tell people your religion should be that of others.

Alls I can say is get a life - stop meddling.

If you guys put as much energy into your own families, you wouldn't have to meddle so much.

Tell John McCain to spend more time with his wife. The nation saw during the campaign how she looked like this Lonely, Love-starved wife, yet jealous of Sarah Palin for being young and popular.

Posted by: annjell on December 13, 2008 at 7:54 PM | PERMALINK

... just think, some people actually thought that Bayh would have been a great choice for VP...

Now he wants to form a 'moderate' section in the Democratic caucus. What not call it what it is: the 'conservative' Democrats.

I think it is important to name them conservative and NOT moderate.

All things considered, I rather have those conservatives in the Democratic party, then having them join as 'moderates' in the wacko GOP.

Posted by: bruno on December 13, 2008 at 8:06 PM | PERMALINK

You're neglecting the fact that all politics is pandering. Politicians never do or say anything unless they believe that their constituents want them to do or say it. There is never any point in blaming a politican for anything. They are transparent figureheads, passthroughs. Always look at who they are pandering to.

Posted by: Frank Wilhoit on December 13, 2008 at 8:41 PM | PERMALINK

That Bayh wants a similar group working in the Senate is discouraging, to put it mildly.

You know what's worse?

That it's so predictable.

Thank god Obama didn't cave to DLC pressure and select this dickweed as his veep.

Posted by: Jennifer on December 13, 2008 at 9:04 PM | PERMALINK

Ah yes, Evan Bayh, a legend in his own mind who'd be living in a cardboard box but for the accident of his birth, decides to form the DINO caucus.

What a dick(less).

Posted by: TCinLA on December 13, 2008 at 9:35 PM | PERMALINK

Hoover's Great Depression hit America hard, but FDR was elected and proceeded to pump federal money into the lowest levels of our society, creating jobs and bolstering small businesses, which were then able to hire more employees, thus creating even more jobs.

This lasted through 1937, when FDR listened to fiscal conservatives, who believed that balancing the federal budget was more important than digging our nation out of the Great Depression, and graphs show that FDR's economic recovery efforts took a distinct turn for the worse up and only started improving at the start of World War II.

So, in my view, fiscal conservative Blue Dog Democrats are no different that any of the culture of corruption, greed and deceit Republicans...which can only meant worse economic conditions for our country in the future...if these turncoat Blue Dogs team up with Republicans.

Think about it. The corrupt Republicans are responsible for driving up our nation's federal debt to over $11 Trillion, while at the same time calling for hundreds of biilions in tax breaks and tax cuts for the wealthiest in a our society. As we've seen, this is a recipe for fiscal disaster.

And Blue Dog Democrats already share responsibility for this national fiscal disaster by always siding with the culture of corruption and greed Republicans on Capitol Hill.

Joe Lieberman selected Harry Reid to be Senate leader because Lieberman was the "swing vote" who would determine whether Democrats or Republicans controlled the Senate. Joe Lieberman is a corrupt Blue Dog to the core.

The same scenario played out in the House following the November 2006 elections. Blue Dogs got their way, and Pelosi and Hoyer were picked to lead the House.

Bottom line: if President Barack Obama sides with the Blue Dogs on Capitol Hill after inauguration day, then our country's economy will go deeper into recession, and probably enter a depression. But if he goes against the insane wishes and conservative policies of the Blue Dogs, President Obama will find himself warring with the Blue Dog-controlled (i.e., conservative Republican-controlled) House and Senate, finding it very difficult to get anything done to help our nation, turning his presidency into a lame-duck presidency even as it gets started, which will plunge our nation, once again, into a deeper recession and probable Second Great Depression.

When you have corrupt Blue Dogs already siding with corrupt Republicans to block aid for Detroit's men, women and children, while earlier these two corrupt blocs joined "fiscal conservative" hands and threw hundreds of billions of dollars at Wall Street, then you just know that our nation is going down the tubes.

Weep for America. Weep for our nation's children. All the conservatives have gone even more insane than usual.

Posted by: The Oracle on December 13, 2008 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

follow the money. It's been said, some of the $700 billion dollars went to pay off some of the RNC campaign bills, some was transferred to put in the coffers, because they will certainly lose some of the PAC money from big unions. Some went into offshore accounts.

I'd say, keep an eye on Mike Huckabee, remember during the presidential campaign, the press did soundbites from the Cayman Islands. Huckabee was supposed to have been at a conference there.

Not to mention, the mega churches, like Rick Warren's church have been getting more camera time - maybe because the churches are tax-exempt, some of the funds could be hidden there.

Posted by: annjell on December 13, 2008 at 11:13 PM | PERMALINK

Prup, nonsense. See Germany (from whence I got the National List idea), and Canada.

We already have a "religious right" party here, called the Constitution Party. Israel's sui generis; the WHOLE Knesset comes off a national list, as opposed to just 1/3 in Germany on the Bundestag. And, you have not just one "religious right" party but multiple ultra-Orthodox parties. Israeli voters themselves recognized the situation was bad, so they forced through separate, direct election of the PM. That, in turn HAS lessened the influence of splinter parties to some degree.

India? Totally different story. India is actually almost a two-party state. Sure, it's actually got more than a dozen smaller parties, but almost all of them orbit/coalesce around either Congress or BJP.

Yugoslavia, I'll grant you, but that's only one of the three cases that actually failed. Even there, it's arguable it was as much the admission of a past mistake (cobbling together "Yugoslavis" in the first place) rather than a mistake in its rupture.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on December 14, 2008 at 1:23 AM | PERMALINK

I was saying as soon as it was clear Dems would win in a near-landslide that Obama's presidency woud be destroyed by "moderate" Democrats, just as Clinton's and Carter's were before him.

These people are not Democrats. Or democrats.

Posted by: brewmn on December 14, 2008 at 2:58 AM | PERMALINK

So with the War, Treason, and Fear Party facing intellectual and financial bankruptcy, no demographic constituency that isn't shrinking, and almost no geographic base outside of Appalachia, the Deep South, and Utah, what may be happening is that the Big Tent Party will replace the Plantationists by splitting into two factions, one of which will replace the reality-denying, pig-headed social reactionaries with a new party that maintains Oldthink corporatist tax policies without being uniracial, thus leaving the worst of the worst impotently raging inside the dustbin of history along with Know-Nothings and similar atavisms. Sounds like a plan, but in the meantime, the sonsabluebitches won't be as much help.

Perhaps if someone imposed any actual discipline on the DINOs in the form of "Your Vote or Your Seat" there would be a pay off, if only in two years when they fail to get DNC support and DNC funding, thus further pushing them out to replaced the increasingly irrelevant and unelectrable god-bothering bigots of what some of us are old enough to remember as a once-decent political party, back in the days before ideology and partisan power-seeking for its own sake replaced the concensus social contract in which simply being American was bond enough to promote civility at home and unity abroad.

Posted by: Tomm on December 14, 2008 at 7:20 AM | PERMALINK

"meanwhile the sonsabluebitches won't be OF much help." Except, I guess, insofar as their very existence helps propel Gadarene Plantationists over their cliff all the faster.

Posted by: Tomm on December 14, 2008 at 7:27 AM | PERMALINK

Since liberal bloggers created an organization to defeat blue dogs, is it no wonder they have little desire to work in tandem with the Liberals. Dumb on all parts. It takes 50+1 to rule, or 60 in the Senate. You do not get that by internal bickering. Time for Politicians to grow up.

Posted by: Roy E Pearson on December 15, 2008 at 12:13 AM | PERMALINK



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