Blue Dogs Threaten to Block the Healthcare BillJuly 16, 2009 - by Donny Shaw
Of the three, the most interesting one to watch will be the Energy and Commerce Committee, where conservative Blue Dog Democrats have the numbers and are threatening to vote down the bill if the Chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman [D, CA-30], doesn’t agree to make some major changes. The Hill reports:
Seven Blue Dogs on the House Energy and Commerce Committee have banded together to draft amendments that they’ll co-sponsor in the committee markup, which starts Thursday. Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), the Blue Dogs’ point man on healthcare, says if those changes aren’t accepted, they’ll vote down the bill.
“We cannot support the current bill,” Ross said. “Last time I checked, it took seven Democrats to stop a bill in Energy and Commerce.”
Ross knows of three additional Democrats on the committee who won’t support the bill in its current form, creating a base of 10 Democratic opponents. The committee has 59 members: 23 Republicans and 36 Democrats.
You can read about their specific concerns with the legislation in a letter they sent last week to the Democratic leadership. Essentially, they are against the bill’s plan to tax businesses that don’t provide insurance for their employees and the public option that would pay out Medicare-like rates. More on the Blue Dogs’ specific concerns they want addressed can be found via Arkansas News.
Many centrists say that much of the frustration stems from the vote on the climate change bill just before the Fourth of July break, and the feeling that it was “jammed down the throat” of centrist lawmakers.
Pelosi cut deal after deal with individual lawmakers to squeak the bill out of committee and to the floor. Then lawmakers flew home and had to battle criticism from voters at the same time Republicans were saying Democrats passed an “energy tax.”
“They went home and got beat up about energy,” said a senior aide to a Blue Dog lawmaker. “Now you’re going to jam healthcare down their throat and send them home for a month?”
One of the goals of having the seven Blue Dog members band together is to guard against leadership picking centrists off one by one with side deals, as they feel was done during the energy vote.
The group includes all the Blue Dogs on the committee except for Rep. Jane Harman (D-Calif.). They are Reps. John Barrow (D-Ga.), Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), Baron Hill (D-Ind.), Jim Matheson (D-Utah), Charlie Melancon (D-La.), Ross, and Zack Space (D-Ohio).
The strange thing about their line of reasoning here is that some of these Blue Dogs on the committee, and Blue Dogs in general, represent districts with exceptionally high rates of uninsured constituents. With the climate bill, they may have had a case. As Nate Silver points out “38 of the 48 [Blue Dogs] have per capita carbon output rates above the national median, and 36 of the 48 have an above-median concentration of jobs in the manufacturing and agricultural sectors.”
On health care, Silver’s analysis shows that of the 48 Democrats who represent conservative districts that were won by McCain, “31 (roughly two-thirds) have an above-median number of uninsured.” For example, Blue Dog Health Care Task Force Chairman Rep. Mike Ross [D, AR-4], a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, has a 21.8% uninsured rate, which is well above the 14.6% median.