In political folklore, a “yellow dog” Democrat is someone who could be counted on to vote for a Democratic candidate even if the Democratic Party nominated a yellow dog. By contrast, in recent times there has been increasing reference to the “blue dog” Democrats in Congress. Those members are more discriminating about whom or for what they are willing to vote. That’s a problem for both Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV.) There are many more “blue dogs” than “yellow dogs” in their packs.
The federal budget deficit and proposals that could significantly increase that deficit, both for the current year and projected for the coming decade, are beginning to scare the more conservative blue dog Democrats and cause them to stray from the pack leader. For fiscal year 2009, the U.S. government ran a budget deficit of almost $1.4 trillion. Yes, that is trillion with a “t.”
It is not just a record. The $1.4-trillion deficit beats the old record by threefold. Moreover, by the Obama Administration’s own projections, the total budget deficit is projected to grow by an additional $9 trillion over the next decade. Remember when Ross Perot (who received 20 percent of the presidential vote in 1992) was campaigning on the position that it was irresponsible to allow the budget deficit to grow by several hundreds of billions over the succeeding years? If only we had such small worries today, and our deficit could still be measured in billions rather than trillions.
In fairness, George W. Bush did nothing to alleviate the problem. Indeed, the budget deficit doubled during his tenure, and many of those years were times of good economic growth, when there was no need to run a deficit for economic stimulus purposes. Without getting much credit (or blame) for it, he signed a Republican-sponsored bill that added a prescription drug benefit for seniors, adding trillions to the unfunded liabilities of the U.S. government (which now amount to over $100 trillion or $900,000 for every U.S. household).
For 2009, the federal budget deficit is projected to be 11.2 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP.) This contrasts with a 3.2 percent of GDP in the previous year. Moreover, the Obama economic team does not see an opportunity to cut the deficit significantly during his tenure. In fact, they project a doubling of the deficit over the next eight years. We are already in debt to the Chinese alone for $1 trillion, and we are selling off our physical assets at a record pace to pay our bills. Direct foreign investment in the United States is $2.5 trillion, up 150 percent in just the last decade.
No wonder the “blue dog” Democrats are nervous. Many of them have to run for reelection next year in states with conservative electorates, like Indiana, Arkansas, and North Dakota. That makes them skeptical of a near trilliondollar price for the proposed healthcare bill.
Stories are already beginning to circulate about the billions of dollars of waste uncovered in the stimulus bill, and the promised jobs have yet to materialize in sufficient numbers to justify the $787 billion cost of that legislation.
Thus, the Senate deadline for healthcare is beginning to slip into early next year. And, Democrats are less and less eager to vote for a climate bill that could cost additional trillions and incrementally double electricity rates over the next decade. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is a good vote counter, and he knows he is asking some of his Democratic caucus to commit political suicide by backing the President’s legislative agenda.
The Republicans are counting on a conservative backlash to punish Democrats in 2010. “Blue dog” Democrats fear the same thing if they become identified in voters’ minds with the leaders of their pack.
Former Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) wrote a book comparing his former job to trying to herd cats. Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are finding that herding “blue dogs” is not much easier.
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