Just when Democrats thought that all their health-care headaches were in the Senate, a second front broke out in the other body. And it came from a not unexpected source – the Blue Dogs, the loose mix of conservative and moderate Southern Democrats whom in a previous generation were known as Boll Weevils.
Nearly 30 years ago, this group (or, technically speaking, its predecessors) was responsible for providing Ronald Reagan with his signature first-term triumph – a 25 percent across-the-board cut in income taxes. Considering that Democrats still technically controlled the House at the time, Reagan wouldn't have been able to get his tax cuts passed were it not for the Boll Weevils.
Today, the Boll Weevils might be responsible for upsetting what President Obama hopes to be his signature first-term program – national health insurance.
Of course, the great irony here is that the Blue Dogs wouldn't be so powerful were it not for the success of the Democrats in 2006 and 2008 cycles. Democrats took – and expanded – their Congressional majority because they ran middle-of-the-road/conservative candidates in a number of Southern states. Those members, it turns out, weren't just conservative on social issues – abortion, gun rights, etc. They're also conservative on pocket-book and “programmatic” issues.
They might have been willing to go with the president on the stimulus package, but as the spending and debt has risen, they're wary about being considered automatic votes on the very pricey health-care plan.
There are 52 members in the so-called Blue Dog Caucus. Forty of them sent the House leadership a letter declaring the discussed House health-care proposal to be "unacceptable." The big problem for these Democrats -- as it has been in the Senate -- is on the issue of a "public option" alternative to the current system of private insurance.
Let's be clear: That 40 Democrats signed the letter is very significant. It's almost exactly the same number as the 44 Democrats who voted against the cap-and-trade climate change legislation (which Republicans call cap-and-tax). That passed the House by a mere seven votes (which included eight Republicans). Democrats can't afford to lose another 40-plus Democrats on a health care bill because the GOP is likely to be even more united on that bill than they were on cap-and-trade.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer says he doesn't think the Blue Dog concerns will be much of a problem.