Blue Dogs will be guarding the House

Commentator and Washington Post columnist Jeff Birnbaum

KAI RYSSDAL: Republican leaders in Congress have told lawmakers not to book any tickets out of town until Saturday. The GOP's trying to pull together some last minute legislation before the Democrats take over. There's a big trade, tax, and health-care package set to be passed later this week. President Bush is expected to meet with conservative Democrats tomorrow at the White House. Coservative Democrats who did a pretty good job picking up seats in the mid-term election. So well that they're going to want a bigger say in policy making when they take the majority next month.

Commentator Jeff Birnbaum says Blue Dog Democrats might just muddy up the plans of the blue-state party.


JEFF BIRNBAUM: One of the great myths of Washington is that someone is in charge there.Lately, in particular, news reports have been trumpeting how much things will change because Democrats now "control" the Congress. Well, I'm here to warn you, not so fast. And here's the reason: the Blue Dogs.

Blue Dogs are neither blue, nor are they dogs. They are conservative, pro-business Democrats — mostly from the South and West — who could well hold the balance of power in the House of Representatives next year. Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi may be liberal at her core, but she won't be able to get much done if she loses support of the Blue Dog Caucus. Its 44 members — seven more than before the midterm elections in November — make it even larger than the better known and far more liberal Congressional Black Caucus.

They will make up about a fifth of the Democrats in the House and that's a lot, especially since the loss of just 30 percent of them would be enough to change a Democratic victory to a Democratic defeat.

Pelosi et al would love to spend tons of money on education and the environment. But the Blue Dogs are fiscal conservatives and will insist that any new expenditures be paid for so that they don't widen the budget deficit. That could be a problem for those pricey initiatives.

Blue Dogs will also be the go-to group for corporate lobbyists. The liberals want to punish drug and oil companies by taking away some of their legislative goodies. But a lot of the Blue Dogs will resist those efforts.

There may be enough Blue Dogs, in fact, to spare both industries the brunt of the Democrats' ire.

Majorities are fragile things in the nation's capital and can quickly dissolve into minorities. If you want to know how much the Democrats "in charge" will be able to accomplish next year, keep your eye on the Blue Dogs.

And who knows, maybe under their influence the big-spending Republicans will finally be stopped by Democrats with a fiscal conscience.

RYSSDAL: Jeff Birnbaum is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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