Rep. Heath Shuler is working behind the scenes, hoping to make the Blue Dog Coalition a key piece in bipartisan deals.
Shuler noted that so far this year, the Blue Dog Coalition has been unified on a host of floor votes, including the series of continuing resolutions to keep the government open. Indeed, most Blue Dog members voted for the CR on March 15 that drew the ire of conservative Republicans, 54 of whom voted against the measure. Fellow Co-Chairman Mike Ross said that CR vote proved the group’s value.
“We came very close to a government shutdown Saturday morning, [but] don’t forget that the last CR would not have passed and there would have been a government shutdown three weeks ago had it not been for moderate, conservative Democrats who supported it,” the Arkansas Democrat said.
A total of 85 Democrats voted for that measure.
Others in the conservative coalition are happy with the way Shuler is positioning himself and the group. In the first weeks of the new Congress, the Blue Dogs were primarily a small band of dissenters, still bruised by election losses, and they ran a token challenge against Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) as Minority Leader. Shuler received 43 votes.
“First he said, ‘I’m running’ [for leader]. Now he’s saying we’ve got to get away from the politics and to the governing,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said. “He’s actually been very constructive; he’s always talking to us about the things we ought to be looking at.”
The group counts only 25 members but still hopes to play an outsized role as a bloc of swing votes.
One Democratic aide observed: “With the focus on budget and fiscal responsibility, there’s probably some frustration that there’s not been a place for them to stand and be bipartisan. Republicans have been so far extreme in their budget debate that they’ve not provided a place for them to find common ground.”
Nevertheless, Members are counting on their number being called. With Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) holding strong influence over his conservative colleagues and threatening to vote against a debt ceiling increase unless drastic measures are taken, Rep. Dennis Cardoza predicted that in just a few weeks time, “you’re going to have an absolute war” in the GOP Conference.
“You’re already seeing those major fault lines coming through,” the California Democrat added. “And you’re going to need moderate Democrats to work with business Republicans to get the job done. There’s a whole heck of a lot of relevancy. People just haven’t woken up to that fact yet.”