Blue Dogs May Restrain Biden’s Radical Agenda

April 29, 2021 Updated: April 29, 2021

News Analysis

In some quarters, President Joe Biden received excellent reviews for his April 28 speech to a CCP-virus-limited joint session of Congress, although the tepid reaction of a key group of House Democrats may signal a rough road ahead.

Democrats and Republicans in Congress generally reacted according to their party’s customary talking points, with the former praising Biden’s unity calls and the latter zeroing in on the higher taxes and bigger deficits they foresee.

Many of the Democratic reactions showed unalloyed praise, such as that of House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who said on MSNBC that Biden’s speech showed the president “is not running away from the big solutions that are necessary. He’s running toward them and laying them out in a very clear and simple yet compelling fashion.”

But one group of House Democrats—the 17 members of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition—issued a statement notable mainly for its restraint, especially compared to the glowing praises of their party colleagues in the lower chamber.

As our nation builds back from the pandemic, we commend President Biden’s focus on investing in our future. We must pursue bipartisan, bicameral results that create good-paying jobs, strengthen the middle class, invest in rural America, and ensure everyone pays their fair share and gets a fair shake,” the statement said.

The Blue Dog statement was issued by Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-Ariz.), who is the group’s co-chairman for communications.

“Above all else, we must restore faith in government, and that requires bold pragmatism and a focus on pursuing the policies that can become law,” the statement said.

“Messaging bills that cannot pass both chambers do not put people back to work, do not help open small businesses, and do not lower the costs of health care. The American people want results over rhetoric, and the Blue Dogs are ready to help deliver those much-needed results.”

Biden is specifically praised only in the first sentence, while the concluding paragraph could be seen as a Blue Dog message to the far more liberal House Democratic majority to cool the radicalism that has dominated its actions thus far in the 117th Congress.

Democrats’ Reservations

Democratic strategist Cristina Antelo told The Epoch Times that reservations about exploding spending and debt are not limited to the Blue Dogs among congressional Democrats.

“O’Halleran’s response is indicative of not only the Blue Dogs, but many other moderate Democrats in the House as well that may have been willing to hold their noses and take out the credit card for an initial push on a COVID bill for a newly elected leader of our party, but those same folks won’t do so again,” said Antelo, who is CEO of the Washington-based Ferox Strategies.

“All the attention on Manchin/Sinema in the Senate overshadows that Pelosi will have an equally difficult time, with only a handful of votes in the margin,” she said, referring to Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.).

Manchin and Sinema are moderates who have maintained an explicitly independent course thus far in the Biden administration. With the Senate evenly split 50–50 between Democrats and Republicans, Manchin and Sinema are in strong positions to demand compromises from Biden and House Democrats.

Biden and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) face an almost equally challenging partisan lineup in the lower chamber, which is what makes the Blue Dogs’ tepid response to the April 28 speech so notable.

There are 222 House Democrats and 214 Republicans, meaning that only four Democrats need to vote with the GOP to stop Biden proposals. That’s why White House negotiators are likely to be seen often in the months ahead lobbying Blue Dogs.

Republicans React

Reaction to the Blue Dog caution among Republican and conservative strategists and advocates was mixed.

Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) President David Williams, for example, said he expects Biden will eventually “realize that a progressive agenda may sound good to the far-left base, but may be too much for moderate Democrats to stomach. The more that Biden alienates the Blue Dog Democrats, the less of his far-left agenda will be passed.”

Similarly, Republican strategist Brian Darling told The Epoch Times that “Blue Dog Democrats have to be nervous when they see Biden’s price tag on his big-ticket items and his progressive rhetoric with regard to guns and social issues. Moderate Democrats recognize that the midterms are going to be a challenge without the far-left woke politics.”

But Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) President Tom Schatz was skeptical, noting that “the call for bipartisanship by Rep. O’Halleran rings hollow after only two Democrats, including one member of the Blue Dog Coalition, voted against the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

“If the infrastructure plan and tax increases come to the floor without Republican votes in committee, it is likely he and his Blue Dogs, with perhaps one exception, will once again become lapdogs for Speaker Pelosi and vote in favor of the partisan bills.”

Americans for Limited Government President Richard Manning was similarly doubtful.

“The minute Blue Dogs take down a rule for a radical piece of legislation, preventing its consideration, I will believe that they are about more than just political posturing,” he said.

Congressional correspondent Mark Tapscott may be contacted at mark.tapscott@epochtimes.nyc