Alliance of House Mods Yet to Emerge

Posted June 25, 2007 at 6:12pm

On the eve of the 110th Congress, moderate Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike raised the specter of a bipartisan coalition to magnify their influence — potentially even establishing a powerful bipartisan group — but six months into the new session, those efforts have failed to produce even one meeting.

“It hasn’t happened yet,” conceded Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-chairman of the Tuesday Group. Shortly after Democrats secured control of the House in November, Kirk and others were openly discussing an effort to form a stronger alliance with moderate Democrats in the Blue Dog Coalition. Kirk had even dubbed the effort the “Tuesday Dogs.”

Neither side faults the other for failing to bring the proposal to fruition, with many lawmakers citing amicable relationships with individual Members.

“I haven’t had any dialogue, but I am meeting with some Democrats on some issues,” said Rep. Mike Castle (R-Del.), noting that he is working with Blue Dog Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.) on some health care issues. “But not in this sense of one group and another group getting together, that never worked particularly well when Republicans were in the majority either,” Castle noted.

For their part, members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition assert it isn’t a problem of reaching across the aisle — several meetings have made the calendar, then failed to happen because of scheduling conflicts, according to Blue Dog leaders — but rather a lack of necessity.

“It just happens that so far in the 110th, the Democratic leadership has reached out to us,” said Rep. Mike Ross (D-Ark.), one of the Blue Dog’s three co-chairmen. He noted Blue Dog members have been invited to participate in high-level discussions and consulted on legislation, which has produced bills that the coalition has backed, such as the recent fiscal 2008 budget.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t work with the Tuesday Group … in the future. The opportunity hasn’t presented itself this session,” Ross added.

Kirk said that any working relationship between the two groups likely would occur only if the Blue Dogs start to feel alienated by their leadership, which has not been the case so far this session.

“I think at this point, in the life of any majority, there will come a time when Members realize that statements from the Speaker to ‘be patient, to wait your turn,’ and ‘not this month’ actually mean ‘no,’” Kirk said. “But we’re not there yet.”

In a separate interview, Rep. Allen Boyd (D-Fla.), a co-chairman of the Blue Dogs, echoed Ross’ sentiment, stating that his colleagues have been “generally happy with the Democratic leadership” this session, while adding that does not preclude working with Republican moderates.

“We’re still trying to find time,” he said of the 47-member group. “We still want to do that and we think it would be productive.”

Rep. Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), co-chairman of the Tuesday Group, said he was not particularly hopeful that the two groups would align this Congress. “There’s not a lot of pressure for the Blue Dogs to work with the Tuesday Group now that they are in the majority,” Dent said. “I’ve always said ‘Let’s take this one step at a time.’ I was not one of the folks out there saying we were going to have that type of close working style, although I think many of us have individual relationships with Members.”

Dent agreed with Kirk that it was unlikely for the Blue Dogs to reach across the aisle unless there is some fracturing within the Democratic Party. “If some Members become disaffected within their own Caucus there will be greater need to reach across the aisle,” Dent said.

Dent added that many lawmakers, including himself, have been working with the Center Aisle Caucus, led by Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) and Timothy Johnson (R-Ill.), which promotes civility and bipartisanship in House debates. “Many of us who are interested in bipartisan discussions have done so,” Dent said.

Talk of moderates joining forces is a perennial discussion in the House, but Castle, now serving his eighth term, noted such efforts are usually fruitless. “You can talk about being more centrist and all together, but that’s not the way the politics in this place work,” Castle said.