Sept. 20, 2014 SIGN IN | REGISTER
Roll Call

On Bailout, Blue Dogs’ Bark Is Worse Than Their Bite

With the House expected to vote on the $700 billion bailout bill today, attention has been focused on whether House Republicans will support the package after the Senate added $150 billion in tax breaks.

But Republicans aren’t the only ones to watch.

Democrats have to worry about whether one of their largest voting blocs — the Blue Dog Coalition — will falter even more in its divided support, considering that the tax breaks and tax extenders contain no offsetting savings.

Blue Dog members split their votes nearly down the middle on Monday, with just 26 of 49 voting in favor of the bill. But they will face an even tougher decision today since the Senate bill disregarded their pay-as-you-go mantra.

While some of the group’s members have already signaled that they will support the Senate version, it is unclear whether Democrats will be able to hold all the Blue Dog votes, much less persuade any detractors to get on board.

“Twenty-six of the Blue Dogs voted for it last time because they thought it was the thing to do, not because they liked it,” one Democratic lobbyist who is close with the coalition said. “This is even a harder vote.”

The Senate version included 10 years worth of tax breaks — measures to reduce the impact of the alternative minimum tax as well as research-and-development and renewable-energy tax credits.

But even without the sweeteners, the bailout proposal — which will allow the government to buy troubled assets from financial institutions struggling with a record number of home foreclosures — has been a tough sell to both Democrats and Republicans.

Former Blue Dog Chairman Charlie Stenholm (Texas), for one, said having to vote on the measure would be a tough position to be in.

“I think it is going to be very difficult to make up your mind until you finally have to push that button,” said Stenholm, now a lobbyist at Olsson, Frank and Weeda.

“Adding these extenders on, some of which I would vote for if they were paid for, is a question the Blue Dogs are going to have to answer themselves,” Stenholm said.

Gordon Taylor said that as a lobbyist and former chief of staff to a Blue Dog, ex-Rep. Chris John (D-La.), he has to straddle two competing views.

“As someone who worked for a Blue Dog, you understand what they are thinking and the concern they have for not having fully paid tax packages,” said Taylor, now a lobbyist at Ogilvy Government Relations.

“The other part of that is, as a lobbyist, your clients are asking you to make sure folks fully understand the impact of what is going on.”

It isn’t just Blue Dog supporters who have been trying to persuade the coalition to get on board with the bailout bill.

In addition to groups such as the Independent Community Bankers of America, which has turned out its grass-roots network in droves, the renewable energy and technology industries have also been putting pressure on Blue Dogs to support the bill.

“It’s not that we disagree with the Blue Dogs on their particular version on the extenders,” said Ralph Hellmann of the Information Technology Industry Council. “The fact is, it’s October and Congress is about to go out and they are talking about letting this extender expire.”

ITIC, for one, has turned up the pressure on Congress since the Senate added the extenders to the financial bailout package.

In addition to targeting Blue Dogs who already voted for the bill, the Solar Energy Industries Association is working on Blue Dogs who voted against the bill, trying to make sure they understand the relationship the vote has with jobs in their districts.

Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) opposed the first bill, but SEIA President Rhone Resch said the group has redoubled its efforts to get her support because of the number of solar energy companies in her district.

“Our emphasis to the Blue Dogs is not about the pay-for issue,” Resch said. “It really is about the potential for these provisions to create jobs and create economic industry for those who have been let go because of the housing crisis.”

Supporters of the PAYGO mentality, including the Concord Coalition, a grass-roots organization dedicated to balanced budgets, have come out in support of the lawmakers’ budgeting rules, a move that could give cover to Blue Dogs leaning toward opposing the bill.

Still, Josh Gordon, policy director for the Concord Coalition, said that since both the tax extenders and the AMT provisions were expected to pass at some point during the 110th Congress, Blue Dog members should pay attention to the bill’s larger purpose and not feel they are abandoning their principles if they vote for the bailout.

“In the end, they are very savvy about coming out in the right place,” said one industry lobbyist who previously worked for a Blue Dog.

“They are not just fighting to the death on a principle if they know there are other important factors at stake.”

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