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|Co-Chairmen||Jim Costa (CA)
Dan Lipinski (IL)
Henry Cuellar (TX)
|Founded||February 14, 1995|
|Political position||Center-left to Center-right|
|National affiliation||Democratic Party|
|Seats in the House||
18 / 435
|Of the Democratic Party Seats||
18 / 194
The Blue Dog Coalition, commonly known as the Blue Dogs or Blue Dog Democrats, is a caucus of United States Congressional Representatives from the Democratic Party who identify as conservative Democrats.
It was formed in 1995 during the 104th Congress to give more conservative members from the Democratic Party a unified voice after the Democrats' loss of Congress in the U.S. Congressional election of 1994. Blue Dog Coalition membership experienced a rapid decline in the 2010s, holding 14 seats in the 114th Congress. The 115th Congress has seen the Coalition grow to 18 members.
The term "Blue Dog Democrat" is credited to Texas Democratic Rep. Pete Geren (who later joined the Bush Administration). Geren opined that the members had been "choked blue" by Democrats on the Left. It is related to the political term "Yellow Dog Democrat," a reference to southern Democrats said to be so loyal they would even vote for a yellow dog before they would vote for any Republican. The term is also a reference to the "Blue Dog" paintings of Cajun artist George Rodrigue of Lafayette, Louisiana, as the original members of the coalition would regularly meet in the offices of Louisiana representatives Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes, both of whom later joined the Republican Party; both had Rodrigue's paintings on their walls. An additional explanation for the term cited by members is "when dogs are not let into the house, they stay outside in the cold and turn blue," a reference to the Blue Dogs' belief they had been left out of a party that they believed had shifted to the political left.
Although its membership is not exclusively Southern, some view the Blue Dogs as the political successors to a now defunct-in-name Southern Democratic group known as the Boll Weevils, who played a critical role in the early 1980s by supporting President Ronald Reagan's tax cut plan. The Boll Weevils, in turn, may be considered the descendants of the Dixiecrats and the "states' rights" Democrats of the 1940s through the 1960s, and even the Bourbon Democrats of the late 19th century.
While the Blue Dog Coalition is officially made up of House members, the term "Blue Dog" is sometimes used informally for Democratic senators, governors, or state legislators who resemble the Blue Dog Coalition positions based on their politics. Recent such Senators include Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Joe Manchin (D-WV).
Freshman Blue Dogs in the House are sometimes nicknamed "Blue Pups".
The coalition was notably successful in a special election of February 2004 in Kentucky to fill a vacant seat in the House of Representatives. They were also successful in the November 2004 elections, when three of the five races in which a Democrat won a formerly Republican House seat were won by Blue Dogs.
In 2007, 15 Blue Dog Coalition Members in safe seats refused to contribute party dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. An additional 16 Blue Dogs have not paid any money to the DCCC but were exempt from party-mandated contributions because they were top GOP targets for defeat in 2008. One reason for the party-dues boycott is contained in remarks made by Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) encouraging leaders of anti-war groups to field primary challenges to any Democrat who does not vote to end the war in Iraq. Woolsey later stated that she was misunderstood, but the Blue Dogs have continued with the boycott. Donations to party Congressional Committees are an important source of funding for the party committees, permitting millions of dollars to be funneled back into close races.
In the summer of 2009, The Economist newspaper said "[t]he debate over health care... may be the pinnacle of the group's power so far" and quoted Charlie Stenholm, a founding Blue Dog, as saying that "this is the first year for the new kennel in which their votes are really going to make a difference."
The Blue Dog Coalition suffered serious losses in the 2010 midterm elections, losing over half of its seats to Republican challengers. Its members, who were roughly one quarter of the Democratic Party's caucus in the 111th Congress, accounted for half of the party's midterm election losses. Including retirements, Blue Dog numbers in the House were reduced from 54 members in 2009 to 26 members in 2011, and two of the Coalition's four leaders (Stephanie Herseth Sandlin and Baron Hill) failed to secure re-election.
Opposition to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and climate change legislation are believed to have contributed to the defeat of two conservative Democrats in the 2012 House elections in Pennsylvania by more liberal opponents.
Following the 2012 House of Representatives elections, the Blue Dog Coalition went from 27 members to 14 members. Speculation ensued that the centrist New Democrat Coalition would fill the power vacuum created by the Blue Dog Coalition's decline.
The Blue Dog Coalition is often involved in searching for a compromise between liberal and conservative positions. The Coalition currently has 18 members in the House of Representatives. Most of the Blue Dogs are a continuation of the socially conservative wing of the Democratic Party. However, there is not any mention "in the official Blue Dog materials about social issues." The coalition is fiscally conservative, but does not determine a platform for social issues. Among Blue Dog Democrats, "some are fiscally conservative and moderate or liberal on social issues, some are the reverse."
Despite the Blue Dogs' differing degrees of economic and social conservatism, they claim they generally work to promote positions within the House of Representatives that bridge the gap between right-wing and left-wing politics. Blue Dogs are an important swing vote on spending bills and as a result have gained influence in Congress out of proportion to their numbers. They are frequently sought after to broker compromises between the Democratic and Republican leadership, generally being swing votes when it comes to voting.
The biggest single source of finance for the Blue Dog Political Action Committee is the health care industry, which donated $1.2 million in the 2009–10 election cycle. In July 2009, Blue Dog members who were committee members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee successfully delayed the House vote on the Health Insurance Reform Bill (HR3200) until after the Summer Recess. It was during this recess that the term "Obamacare" was first derisively adopted by Republicans on Capitol Hill It is widely proposed that Blue Dog opposition to the "public option" and this recess, with that summer's contentious Town Hall meetings, provided the healthcare law's Republican opponents the opportunity to attack and subsequently get the public option dropped from the original, pre-recess, bill.
Members of the New Democrat Coalition, formerly an affiliate of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), take liberal positions on social issues and moderate positions on economic issues and trade. The DLC aims to revitalize and strengthen the Democratic Party, while the Blue Dogs emphasize bipartisanship.
Democrats who identify with the Blue Dogs tend to be more conservative on social issues than "New Democrats." Reflecting the group's Southern roots, many Blue Dogs are strong supporters of gun rights and receive high ratings from the National Rifle Association, some have pro-life voting records, and some get high ratings from immigration reduction groups and from the insurance industry. They supported the Republican and corporate-backed Bankruptcy Reform Act of 2005. As a caucus, however, Blue Dogs have never agreed on, or taken, a formal position on these issues, and some members may favor more socially liberal platforms.
On economic issues, Blue Dogs tend to be pro-business, favoring lower corporate tax rates, limiting public welfare spending and reducing Social Security benefits. Individually however, both New Democrats and Blue Dogs, may have differing positions on trade issues, and they include both supporters and strong critics of labor unions, protectionism, and free trade. Some Democrats are members of both the Blue Dog Coalition and the New Democratic Coalition, as was former Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona.
Founding members were Glen Browder and Bud Cramer of Alabama; Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas; Gary Condit of California; Nathan Deal of Georgia; William Lipinski of Illinois; Scotty Baesler of Kentucky; Billy Tauzin and Jimmy Hayes of Louisiana; Collin Peterson and David Minge of Minnesota; Michael Parker and Gene Taylor of Mississippi; Pat Danner of Missouri; William K. Brewster of Oklahoma; John S. Tanner of Tennessee; Ralph Hall, Charles Stenholm, Pete Geren and Greg Laughlin of Texas, Bill Orton of Utah; and Lewis F. Payne, Jr. and Owen Pickett of Virginia. Condit (Administration), Peterson (Policy), and Tanner (Communications) were co-chairs (Deal was initially the chair for Policy before he switched parties shortly after the caucus's founding). Browder headed the group's budget task force.
After growth in the caucus after the 2006 and 2008 elections, Blue Dog membership was nearly cut in half by the 2010 election, in which 26 members were re-elected but 28 were either defeated or chose not to run for re-election. Blue Dog membership was nearly cut in half again for the 113th Congress. Of the 27 Blue Dogs, 3 resigned (Giffords, Cardoza and Harman), while 10 chose not to run for re-election or were defeated. Of the remaining 14 members Adam Schiff left the coalition, but Pete Gallego (Texas), Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona), Ron Barber (Arizona), Nick Rahall (West Virginia), Dan Lipinski (Illinois), and Cheri Bustos (Illinois) joined them for the 113th Congress.
|Term start||Term end||Chair for Administration||Chair for Communications||Chair for Policy|
|February 1995||April 1995||Rep. Gary Condit (CA-18)||Rep. John S. Tanner (TN-8)||Rep. Nathan Deal (GA-9)|
|April 1995||January 1999||Rep. Collin Peterson (MN-7)|
|January 1999||January 2001||Rep. Robert E. Cramer (AL-5)||Rep. Chris John (LA-7)||Rep. Charles Stenholm (TX-17)|
|January 2001||January 2003||Rep. Chris John (LA-7)||Rep. Jim Turner (TX-2)||Rep. Allen Boyd (FL-2)|
|January 2003||January 2005||Rep. Jim Turner (TX-2)||Rep. Baron Hill (IN-9)||Rep. Charles Stenholm (TX-17)|
|January 2005||January 2007||Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-2)||Rep. Dennis Cardoza (CA-18)||Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5)|
|January 2007||January 2009||Rep. Allen Boyd (FL-2)||Rep. Mike Ross (AR-4)||Rep. Dennis Moore (KS-3)|
|January 2009||October 2009||Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (SD-AL)||Rep. Charlie Melancon (LA-3)||Rep. Baron Hill (IN-9)|
|October 2009||January 2011||Rep. Jim Matheson (UT-2)|
|January 2011||January 2013||Rep. Heath Shuler (NC-11)||Rep. Mike Ross (AR-4)||Rep. John Barrow (GA-12)|
|January 2013||January 2015||Rep. John Barrow (GA-12)||Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5)||Rep. Jim Cooper (TN-5)|
|January 2015||January 2017||Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR-5)||Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)|
|January 2017||present||Rep. Jim Costa (CA-16)||Rep. Henry Cuellar (TX-28)||Rep. Dan Lipinski (IL-3)|
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