House Democrats hold a fragile majority in Congress, and party moderates, many of them representing rural districts, say they hold the ticket to maintaining the majority in 2022 because of their connection with Republican voters.
Although the Blue Dog Coalition's membership shrank after Democratic losses in 2020, Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., said the group still has clout in Congress.
“Frankly, when the swing is four, five, or six members, that’s all it takes. And we have 18,” Schrader told Agri-Pulse.
The Blue Dog Coalition, a group of House Democrats who pride themselves on fiscal responsibility, was formed with 23 members after the 1994 midterm elections when Republicans netted 54 seats in the House and eight in the Senate. That was the first majority for Republicans since the 1952 elections, according to the coalition’s website.
The group celebrated its 25th anniversary last February.
Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., joined the Blue Dogs when she got to Congress in 2019 because of Co-Chair Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., who is originally from her district. She also was intrigued by the group’s stance on fiscal responsibility and national security.
“Of course, I have a national security background and my area of personal interest, and one reflected in my district, is to make sure (Congress) is being responsible,” she told Agri-Pulse.
Blue Dogs Co-Chairman Tom O’Halleran, D- Ariz., said infrastructure, the rural health care system, and continuing to make sure the U.S. is the number-one economy in the world are among key policy priorities this Congress.
“We cannot allow China to dominate America, whether it's economic, military, or research, we have to be the dominant force in those areas,” O’Halleran told Agri-Pulse. He noted it's also "extremely important" that the coalition keep in mind civil rights issues such as voting rights.
The Blue Dogs are planning to launch a task force on strengthening rural America soon. Spanberger said high-speed internet for rural America has to be near the top of the priority list.
“If it's farming, if it's forestry, if it's manufacturing, people in rural communities who do not have access to broadband are economically disadvantaged and cannot compete,” she said.
The group now has 18 members, after eight were picked off in the last election cycle, including former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn. The coalition’s highest membership was 54 from 2009 to 2011.
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Schrader said the Blue Dogs are putting their stamp on bills despite their smaller membership.
For example, a House-passed bill aimed at expanding voting and changing campaign finance laws omits any taxpayer funding of campaigns at the behest of the Blue Dogs, said Schrader.
Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Ga., the longest-serving Blue Dog and the chair of the House Ag Appropriations Subcommittee, said there is no question the group has leverage with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. to achieve its policy goals.
“In the House, with the fragile majority we have there, every vote counts. It's important that the Democratic Caucus listen and be sensitive to some of the more moderate members of our caucus,” he told Agri-Pulse.
While there is a lot of excitement around “colorful and outspoken media-savvy” members who were elected from solid Democratic districts, the caucus would not hold the majority without the Blue Dogs, Bishop said.
After this week's passing of Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Democrats have 218 seats versus 211 Republicans, a number that will grow to 212 once Louisiana Republican Julia Letlow is sworn in.
The Blue Dogs will likely be important to keeping critical swing districts blue in 2022.
The Blue Dogs "reflect a very important part of Main Street America that we see throughout the country, and certainly in our rural areas, at least for today,” Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., told Agri-Pulse.
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