For a dozen years, the Democratic conservatives known as Blue Dogs have been baying at the moon, ignored by Republicans and tolerated by their more liberal Democratic colleagues. Now, these House lawmakers say that is about to change.
Republicans "did not lose their seats to liberal Democrats" in last weeks elections, said Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark. "Republicans lost their seats to Blue Dog Democrats."
"We'll have a lot to say about what passes and what doesn't" when the 110th Congress convenes in January with Democrats in control for the first time in 12 years, said Ross, new communications director for the caucus.
With the addition of nine newly elected freshmen, the Blue Dogs claim 44 members, nearly 20 percent of the incoming Democratic majority. They will be led by Rep. Allen Boyd, D-Fla., and include Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., in line to become the next Agriculture Committee chairman.
The courting of the dogs
The Blue Dogs were formed in 1994 after Republicans swept the long-entrenched Democrats from power. They tend to be social conservatives on such issues as abortion. But their big issue is fiscal discipline - balancing the budget and reducing the federal debt.
Many in the group are from the South, and the group took its name from the old adage that southerners would vote for a yellow dog if he were on the Democratic ballot. A blue dog, they decided, was a moderate or conservative, "choked blue" by the Democrats in the years leading up to 1994.
Already, leaders from both parties are courting their votes. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi, a California liberal, has promised to make "paygo," a Blue Dog-backed principle that any new spending be paid for with cuts in other programs or new revenues, one of her first legislative goals.
"Leader Pelosi looks forward to working with the Blue Dogs in the 110th Congress," said Jennifer Crider, Pelosi's spokeswoman. "They are important voices in our diverse caucus."
Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., who is running for the position of Republican leader in the next Congress, listed cooperation with the Blue Dogs as part of his platform.
"We also will attempt to restart the old GOP-Boll Weevil coalition that proved so successful in the 1980s to advance President Reagan's revolution," Pence said. "There are Blue Dog Democrats that want to balance the budget, address our nation's abounding debt, strengthen Social Security and protect life and marriage. Our minority will look for opportunities to work with them when there is agreement."
Americans, said Stephanie Herseth, a Blue Dog Democrat from heavily Republican South Dakota, "are looking for leadership from the center." She said they will seek consensus with other Democrats while at the same time will "certainly continue to work with our Republican friends in a bipartisan way."