Blue Dogs = 10 Years of LeadershipWritten By: SEN. JIM MATHESON
Article Date: 07-03-2006
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Injecting a common sense, bridge-building voice to both sides of Capitol Hill.
The year was 1995. A group of conservative Democrats were being "choked blue" by what they saw happening in the House of Representatives. Political extremes - both on the right and the left - dominated policy debates. Their response was to form the Blue Dog Coalition. Since that time, they have built a reputation as a serious player in the policy arena, promoting positions that bridge the gap between ideological extremes. The three dozen or so conservative and moderate Democrats in the Blue Dog Democrat Coalition hail from every region of the country. Its Southern roots have branched out to the East, the Midwest and my home ground - the West.
At a time when both sides on Capitol Hill seem to spend too much time locked in confrontation, Blue Dogs inject a common sense, bridge-building voice. My colleagues and I deliver a message that is pro-business, pro-defense, and pro-accountability. We reflect where many of our constituents and, I believe, the majority of Americans are on the policy spectrum.
A great example of Blue Dog leadership can be found in the reform of the federal welfare system. After Republicans took control of Congress in 1995, they drafted reforms that many child and family advocates saw as too harsh - drastically cutting school lunch programs, children's health care and other support services. Both sides had political reasons not to complete welfare reform. Democrats criticized the "heartless" Republicans; Republicans characterized Democrats as soft on "welfare cheats."
Blue Dogs, including two with expertise in children's issues - Reps. Charlie Stenholm (D-TX) and John Tanner (D-TN) - crafted a compromise that included strong work requirements and tough time limits on welfare benefits.
It also featured the recommendations from the bipartisan National Governors Association giving states flexibility in managing new welfare rules, plus sufficient funding for support services, such as child care and schooling for mothers re-entering the work force.
The Blue Dogs secured Republican support and convinced Democrats to move towards the middle. That effort paid off with legislation that passed both the House and Senate, was signed by President Clinton and - 10 years later - is hailed as a success.
Blue Dogs are legendary for their commitment to fiscal discipline and accountability. They have won praise from magazine and newspaper editorials around the country.
No small business would remain in business if its books carried as much red ink as the federal government. Blue Dogs have consistently called for a bipartisan budget summit to devise a plan to reverse the irresponsible borrow-and-spend actions that have mortgaged our children's future to foreign governments. Every small business owner in America knows the "day of reckoning" will come if it continually lives beyond its means and has no plan for getting back on track.
Pro-business Blue Dogs helped push bankruptcy reform through the House last year. We agreed an overhaul of the bankruptcy code was needed to ensure those with the means to pay at least some of their debts aren't able to wipe their debts clean by gaming the system.
Holding government accountable is another Blue Dog priority. The Citizens Against Government Waste - the nation's largest nonpartisan, nonprofit dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement in government - recently thanked the Blue Dogs for their list of reforms that include requiring all federal agencies to audit their books and allowing a three-day deliberation period before voting on a bill, so members of Congress can analyze the contents. These reforms seem like common sense to most people. We need more such common sense solutions in order to create sound policy.
What I find so appealing about my fellow Blue Dogs is that they can and do work with everyone. Partisan gridlock would become a thing of the past if our approach carried the day. Blue Dogs are independent of the leadership of either party. It's that philosophy that allows us the freedom to study all aspects of an issue and come up with a solution that is in the best interest of the people we represent. I am certain that's what people expect from their representatives in Congress.
While we're open to new approaches and we will continue to evolve, the Blue Dogs don't plan any major shifts going forward. We think we're successful because we speak for the moderate majority.
That's all the motivation we need to be a force for mainstream values and substantive proposals that keep America safe, strong and free.
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