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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 themselves as moderates and conservatives.
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, falling from 54 seats in the 111th Congress to 14 seats in the 113th Congress.
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; Mike Parker and Gene Taylor of Mississippi; Pat Danner of Missouri; Bill Brewster of Oklahoma; John 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 and Deal were co-chairmen. Browder headed the group’s budget task force.
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 "extreme" Democrats from 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 if it were labeled Democrat. 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.
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 2005, the members of the Blue Dog Coalition voted 32 to 4 in favor of the bill to limit access to bankruptcy protection (S 256).
While the Blue Dog Coalition is 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).
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 magazine 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 comprised 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 2008 to 26 members in 2010 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 United States House of Representatives elections in Pennsylvania, 2012 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 Blue Dogs are viewed by some as a continuation of the socially conservative wing of the Democratic party, however, the only stated policy position of the Blue Dogs is fiscal conservatism.
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 lending a more centrist character to US politics.
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, an affiliate of the Democratic Leadership Council (DLC), take moderate or 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 conservatives 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.
Some in the Democratic Party's liberal wing promote primary challenges against Blue Dog Coalition members in an effort to unseat Democratic Party members they view as unreliable or too conservative. The editors of the left-wing weblog OpenLeft refer to Blue Dog Democrats who voted for war funding in May 2007 and voted to grant the Executive branch warrantless wiretapping powers as "Bush Dogs". Others in the party view these individuals as "Republicans in Democrats Clothing".
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 joined them for the 113th Congress.
Freshman Blue Dogs in the House are sometimes nicknamed "Blue Pups".