If there’s anything positive to come out of the past year, it’s that conservative Blue Dog Democrats have been exposed as frauds – concerned more about raising corporate cash and enabling Republican obstruction than any pragmatic desire to help Democrats in the red states. Blue Dogs have always claimed a high ground on Capitol Hill, saying that they represent “tough” districts where the voters are “moderate.” Progressives get told to sit down and shut up, because if Democrats are “too liberal” they will lose their majority in Congress.
But now many Blue Dogs are in trouble because of health care, and ironically what could save their hide is a public option. Instead, they are left selling a corporate-friendly bill hashed behind closed doors that forces Americans to buy private insurance – which will only make their constituents vote Republican. That’s why so many Blue Dogs are retiring – so they can bail and become lobbyists for the insurance industry.
Yesterday, Jane Hamsher at the blog Firedoglake re-printed some poll results on health care reform that would make anyone consulting the Democrats think long and hard about the current plan of action.
When asked if they support “requiring everyone to buy and be covered by a private health insurance plan,” only 34% of American voters said “yes” and 60% said “no.” But if you ask the same question and add “with a choice between a public option and private insurance plans,” the results reverse – with 60% saying “yes” and 40% saying “no.”
The numbers aren’t that different when you zero in on “swing districts.” A public option is slightly less popular, but still does well (50-46) – and gets far better reviews than a mandate without the public option (34-60), which is effectively what is now on the table.
And it gets worse when you deal with the “excise tax.” People who live in swing districts really don’t like “placing a tax on the highest-cost private insurance policies in order to pay for health care reform,” with 29% saying “yes” and 55% saying “no.” But ask them about “raising taxes on households making more than $350,000 a year in order to pay for health care reform,” and the proposal suddenly gets majority support at 53%.
So if you’re one of those House Democrats who represents a “swing district” and are worried about re-election, wouldn’t you be furious that the public option was taken out of the Senate health care bill – and you’re now being pressured to pass it unaltered? And wouldn’t you want to scuttle the excise tax right away – keeping the House version that rightly taxes the rich?
Nope. Blue Dog Democrat Mike Ross of Arkansas came out against the public option in September, claiming that his constituents opposed it. It didn’t matter that Daily Kos commissioned a poll in his district (and other Blue Dog districts as well), showing it was popular. Even a public shaming on national TV by Keith Olbermann wasn’t enough to alter his version of reality.
“The idea that removing the public option from the House bill rendered it more popular in swing districts is laughable,” said Jane Hamsher after analyzing the poll results. “Electoral slaughter is being imposed on the House if they are forced to swallow the Senate bill and honor Rahm Emanuel’s back-room deals.”
But instead of fighting to keep their jobs, a lot of these Blue Dogs are choosing to retire. Of the 12 House Democrats who are retiring this year, seven are Blue Dogs – and five of the six Democrats who are not leaving Congress to run for higher office. They’re too cowardly to admit that the public option is popular in their districts, as it exposes them as frauds. Better let a Republican win their district in an open seat, so they can claim the party lost that seat because Democrats are “too liberal.”
We’ve already tried pushing these Blue Dogs to do the right thing, but they just don’t care. That’s because the “tough district” canard was always a lie. If you know anything about their history, the Blue Dogs are not really motivated by a desire to keep Democrats in power.
The Blue Dog caucus was founded in 1995, when Newt Gingrich was House Speaker – and liberals were as weak as ever. The name “blue dog” was a play on the old term “yellow-dog Democrat,” and this group of conservative Democrats complained about being “choked blue” by the more liberal leaders in their Party. They would meet in the offices of their co-founders – Louisiana Congressmen Jimmy Hayes and Billy Tauzin - on whose wall there was the painting of a blue dog.
Both Hayes and Tauzin later switched parties, and are now right-wing Republicans. Both retired from Congress, and are now making a lucrative career as lobbyists. And in Tauzin’s case, he now works for the private health insurance industry – and probably lobbied his old Blue Dog colleagues to kill the public option.
And that’s my prediction where these retiring Blue Dog Democrats are headed. After all, they did more to help the insurance industry scuttle health care reform – turning an angry public against the Democrats so that Republicans will have more power after 2010. One year from now, they will be working on K Street – reaping far greater salaries than they are now.
Meanwhile, the rest of us get ripped off by private health insurance.