Monday, June 22, 2009

Conservative Democrats seek larger role in health care reform

The Blue Dog Coalition, a group of fiscally conservative House Democrats who largely hail from Southern and Midwestern states, could prove critical in passage of the Obama administration's health care policies.

Last month, 45 Blue Dogs, including Chandler, sent a terse letter to the Democratic chairmen of the Education and Labor, Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means committees stating that the group felt minimized in the process, which is "especially concerning in light of the collaborative approach being taken by our Senate colleagues."

The coalition cited the Senate's meetings with committee members and stakeholders to glean input and discuss options.

"We are becoming increasingly troubled that this process has yet to be structured in a way that includes the contributions of the majority of our caucus," the coalition members wrote. "A number of our members sit on your committees, and we stand ready to work with you on possible options for reform."

Earlier this month, when congressional leaders unveiled a draft bill, the proposal centered heavily on a public, or government-run, health care option—much to the Blue Dogs' chagrin. There also was no mention of the public option being used only as a fallback that could be triggered years from now, a sticking point for many Blue Dogs.

Moderate Democrats worry about funding the costs of such efforts, more than $1 trillion during the next decade by most estimates, and want a clear sense of how government-sponsored insurance would function.

"From this point forward, (President Barack) Obama would do well to calm the fears of some who believe that more deficit spending is on the way," said David Wasserman, House editor of the Cook Political Report.

While influential committee chairmanships in the House are held by more liberal members, moderate Democrats hold considerable sway.

The Blue Dog coalition and the similarly centrist New Democrats Coalition claim a little more than 100 of the House's 435 members.

Many of the Blue Dogs hail from districts that are conservative-leaning and have sizable numbers of Republican voters. According to the Sunlight Foundation, a non-partisan think tank that focuses on government transparency, Blue Dogs often take positions that are favorable to the health care industry.

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