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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Will ‘Blue Dogs’ Block Health Care Reform?

Dierdre Walsh has a CNN.com report, “‘Blue Dog’ Democrats may block health care bill,” quoting a Blue Dog House leader Mike Ross (D-AR) on the Democrats’ health care reform legislation

“We remain opposed to the current bill, and we continue to meet several times a day to decide how we’re going to proceed and what amendments we will be offering as Blue Dogs on the committees.”…Asked whether the Blue Dogs on Energy and Commerce are considering voting as a group against the bill if it remains unchanged, Ross replied, “absolutely.”

According to Walsh, the Blue Dogs are concerned about inadequate cost containment in the bill, as well as new mandates on small businesses in the bill and a failure to fix inequitable health care costs for rural physicians and hospitals. As the bill reads now, small businesses with payrolls less than $250K would be exempt from penalties for not providing health insurance, and presumably, their employees could access the “public option.”
The House Energy and Commerce Committee takes up the bill today. Walsh reports that Dems have a 36-23 edge over Republicans on the committee, although 8 of the Dems are Blue Dogs. If 7 Dems vote with the Republicans, it could stop the bill from advancing.
Perhaps the $250K penalty cut-off could be raised to $350K to win the support of some of the Blue Dogs and the bill could be lightly tweaked to accommodate other of their concerns. Meanwhile, however, Nate Silver has a FiveThirtyEight.com post “Blue Dog Districts Need Health Care More than Most” which ought to make Blue Dogs think a little more carefully before jumping on the GOP’s obstructionist bandwagon. Silver notes an interesting statistic regarding the 48 congressional districts represented by Democrats that voted for John McCain:

The median Congressional District has an uninsured population of 14.6 percent, according to Gallup’s data (the average is slightly higher at 15.5 percent). Of the 48 McCainocrat districts, 31 (roughly two-thirds) have an above-median number of uninsured.

Silver then lists the 31 districts, identifies their representatives and ‘Blue Dog’ status and the percentage of residents of each district who are uninsured. Silver’s conclusion:

The bottom line is that the health care bill, among other things, is designed to help out the poor and the uninsured, and somehow or another will tax the rich in order to do so. I can understand if, say, Jason Altmire from PA-4 wants to vote against the health care bill. His district is suburban and pretty well off, and almost everyone there has health insurance. But Mike Ross of the Arkansas 4th, where almost 22 percent of the population is uninsured? This is a bill designed to help districts like his. And the same goes for most of the other Blue Dogs. A lot of the time, these guys are stuck in a tough spot between their party and their constituents. Here, those interests are mostly aligned. If a lot of the people on the top half of this list are voting against health care, first check the lobbying numbers, and then check to see if they’re still in office four years hence.

Blue Dogs will understandibly seek modifications in the bill that address their constituents’ concerns. But they would do well to give Silver’s post a thoughtful read before voting to maintain the status quo.

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