With more Blue Dogs out of Congress than in, the power center of the moderate Democratic coalition has shifted from under the Capitol Dome to downtown Washington, D.C.
Members of the fiscally conservative group are struggling to find their influence on Capitol Hill, but the Blue Dog brand thrives on K Street. And some of the downtown Blue Dogs are trying to give their 26 remaining on-the-Hill colleagues a way to re-energize the potentially endangered species in Congress.
Former Blue Dogs say their counterparts on the Hill have an opportunity to negotiate with Republicans and play hardball with Democrats, especially when budget issues are at the forefront of the agenda.
“What I’ve conveyed to my fellow Blue Dogs is, ‘You haven’t spoken up,’” former Rep. Charlie Stenholm (Texas) said about the Blue Dogs’ handling of the continuing budget resolution fight. “What you ought to be doing on the budget, you ought to be sitting down with Republicans,” added Stenholm, now a lobbyist at Olsson Frank Weeda Terman Bode Matz.
Now that the coalition is much smaller, half the size it was in the 111th Congress, Blue Dogs must show both sides of the aisle what they are for and against, former Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) said.
“They’ve been wounded. Some of them squeaked by,” said Cramer, chairman of Wexler & Walker Public Policy Associates. “I think they’re in a good position to re-establish themselves.”
To help them along, the Blue Dog Research Forum, a group founded last year by Cramer, Stenholm and other former Blue Dog Coalition members and staffers, just hired its first executive director: Cori Smith, the former chief of staff to then-Rep. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.). And the organization is planning its first salon dinner this year on Wednesday at the Source restaurant with economist Paul Volcker.
The forum, Stenholm said, is something he wished the Blue Dogs had when he was in Congress — “a downtown entity that would be there to work with us, praise us when we’re doing things right and chastise us when we’re not doing things right.”
Rep. Dennis Cardoza said the Blue Dogs’ reduced numbers have not diminished their effect.
“It’s still an effective voice, and we’ll be stepping it up,” the California Democrat said. “We’ve been as effective or more effective than any other caucus at advocating our positions.”
Cardoza, a co-chairman of the Blue Dogs’ political action committee, named regulatory reform as just one of many areas where Blue Dogs could make an effect.
“This is only starting the third month of the new Congress,” he said. “There will be some time for us to assert our influence.”
But not all Blue Dogs want to take a more aggressive stance. Rep. Collin Peterson, the last founding member of the group still in Congress, said he thinks the fiscal conservatives needs to pick their battles carefully.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.