Blue Dogs on K Street Say Their Clout Stays
But Will Big Election Losses Cost Them?
Even though Republicans swept dozens of centrist Democrats out of office last week, Blue Dog lobbyists argue that demand for their services will not diminish in the new Congress.
“I’m not worried,” said former Rep. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.), a Blue Dog Coalition co-founder and chairman at Wexler & Walker.
The fiscally conservative coalition suffered extensive losses in the midterms. As of press time, defeat or retirement will force half of the group’s 54 members off Capitol Hill early next year, winnowing their rolls roughly to 1994 levels.
Fewer Blue Dog allies on the Hill might mean that firms, trade associations and corporate offices need fewer lobbyists with ties to the coalition. Even more, House Republicans are giving few indications that they want to work with the minority-to-be. On Friday, a House GOP leadership aide told Roll Call that “the remaining Blue Dogs will be fairly irrelevant in a much more liberal House Democratic Caucus.”
Depending on the outcome of a leadership fight between Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.), a Blue Dog ally, and Majority Whip James Clyburn (S.C.), it’s uncertain how well-represented moderate House Democrats will be within their party’s leadership next year. Adding to the coming intrigue of the 112th Congress, House Republicans are expected to try to entice moderate Democrats to switch parties, as they famously did with Blue Dog co-founder Billy Tauzin (La.) 15 years ago.
But Cramer and a small circle of Blue Dog lobbyists said their clout on K Street will not ebb even in such an environment.
While fewer members means the coalition’s role on Capitol Hill and K Street will inevitably change, they argued that Republican leaders and the business community will increasingly turn to moderate Democrats to push through their legislation.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) “could afford to lose 30 votes and still get things passed,” one Blue Dog lobbyist said. Presumptive Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) “can’t lose 30 votes and get anything passed, unless he comes to us to get it done.”
Strength in (Smaller) Numbers?
“We’re a smaller group, but in some ways a smaller group is more mobile and can more easily take positions on issues,” the source added.
Since launching in 1995 with 23 moderate Democratic members, the coalition ballooned to more than 50 after House Democratic pickups in conservative districts in recent cycles.
Two of the organization’s leaders, Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.) and Baron Hill (Ind.), were knocked off by their GOP opponents this cycle, leaving Reps. Health Shuler (N.C.) and Jim Matheson (Utah) at the helm.
Some Blue Dog-connected lobbyists said the group grew too big too quickly. The coalition also grew complacent, one downtown source said, a tendency that culminated earlier this year with the establishment of Cramer’s nonprofit organization, the Blue Dog Research Forum.
“It’s almost a trapping of success,” a Blue Dog lobbyist said of Cramer’s research forum. “It looked like a large net to capture dollars.”
With his party out of power and fewer Blue Dogs in the House, Cramer said he has no plans to shutter the organization he started last April with ex-Rep. Charlie Stenholm (Texas), a fellow Blue Dog who now lobbies at Olsson, Frank & Weeda.
“I see it staying around,” Cramer said.
Staff Revolving Door
K Street sources also predicted mixed success downtown for the recently unemployed staffers of exiting coalition members.
In recent years, a dozen or so former Members and ex-aides such as Cramer, Stenholm, C2 Group’s Jeff Murray and Scott Parven, who works at Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, have carved out successful niches as intermediaries between the business community and Democratic moderates.
Even with fewer Blue Dogs on Capitol Hill, sources predicted that the new dynamics of a GOP-led House will result in plenty of jobs for those working at firms, trade associations and corporate offices, as well as newly unemployed staffers just coming off the Hill.
“Republicans always look for [Democrats] to work with,” a Blue Dog lobbyist said. “Former Blue Dog staffers are perfect candidates.”
Despite Republican comments to the contrary, the head of a corporate government relations shop said late last week that Boehner and other GOP leaders will court the remaining Blue Dogs from day one, particularly on spending and revenue issues that were a centerpiece of Republican messaging this year.
“You’re never going to get every vote you need out of your own conference. The tea party types are going to push farther right, so Blue Dogs are going to be in high demand on the Congressional level,” the source said. “Blue Dogs have been and will always be in high demand because Blue Dogs — whether they’re 50 or 30 — are going to at the center of every policy debate.”
Even some top Republican lobbyists acknowledged that Blue Dog Democrats won’t be out of demand on K Street.
Consumer Bankers Association President Richard Hunt, a former top aide to one-time Ways and Means Chairman Jim McCrery (R-La.), said last week that regional and community banks could be eyeing Rep. Walt Minnick (D-Idaho), a Blue Dog who lost Tuesday after one term.
“You hire the best person for your industry, period,” Hunt said. “It means whoever supports your industry, whoever is the best qualified is the person you should hire.”
Kate Ackley contributed to this report.