Legacy of Policy Success
Since the founding of the Blue Dog Coalition, its members have diligently fought for fiscal discipline, a strong national security, and good government reforms. Throughout its history, the Coalition has successfully helped to enact legislation ranging from campaign finance reform to statutory PAYGO to stronger counterterrorism measures. The Blue Dogs have also historically put forward policy proposals as a means to identify a bipartisan path forward to break the gridlock in Washington. These are some of the accomplishments that have played a crucial role in the organization’s legacy.
Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform:
In 1997, while the House was under Republican control, Blue Dog members Charlie Stenholm of Texas and Scotty Baesler of Kentucky worked with House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt to draft campaign finance reform legislation that would set stronger limits on the amount of money candidates could receive from their national political party and certain nonprofit organizations. When House Republicans sent the bill to the House Committee on Oversight in order to let the legislation die in Committee, the Blue Dogs worked with Leader Gephardt to get signatures for a discharge petition. While Gephardt wrangled the Democratic Caucus, the Blue Dogs went to moderate Republicans to secure their support. About six months later they had enough signatures — including 12 Republicans and the entire Democratic Caucus — to release the bill from committee. The bipartisan rebellion forced House Speaker Newt Gingrich to send the Bipartisan Campaign Finance Reform Act to the floor for a vote. Democratic leadership reportedly thanked the Blue Dogs “for all the work that they have done” to ensure that “campaign finance reform has survived the best attempts by Republican leadership to drive a stake through its heart.” Although the bill passed the House in 1998, it was then blocked by the Republican Senate.
It would take four more years of advocacy by the Coalition before the legislation would be signed into law. As part of their effort, the Coalition pulled together a Campaign Finance Reform Task Force, and they continued to endorse the Shays-Meehan Campaign Finance Reform bill. “I believe that we need to end the influence of ‘soft money’ generated from undisclosed sources. And I believe that we need to rein in illegal foreign contributions,” Rep. Ken Lucas of Kentucky and Blue Dog Campaign Finance Reform Task Force Co-Chairman, said in a 2001 press release. “True campaign finance reform will restore to the American people their voice in the legislative process — a voice that has been drowned out in recent years by big-money donors.”
During the 107th Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition again endorsed a discharge petition, sponsored by Rep. Jim Turner of Texas, on campaign finance reform. It gained the necessary 218 signatures to force House Speaker Dennis Hastert to allow the measure to be considered on the House floor. On February 14, 2002, the House passed the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002, by a vote of 240–189, and the legislation was signed into law by President George W. Bush on March 27, 2002.
Although the bipartisan Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) budget rule has taken slightly different forms over the years, its role has remained the same: to force lawmakers to pay for new priorities in order prevent the national debt and budget deficit from getting worse. First enacted in 1990 in statutory form, which required the House and Senate to abide by the rule with enforceable consequences, PAYGO remained in place until it expired in 2002. The measure has been credited for leading to budget surpluses in the 1990s. When Republicans allowed the measure to expire in 2002, the Blue Dogs launched an effort to get Congress to reenact statutory PAYGO.
In 2009, after years of advocacy, the Blue Dogs worked with President Barack Obama to adopt a platform of fiscal discipline, including statutory PAYGO. As a result, President Obama announced his support of the measure, and made statutory PAYGO the first piece of legislation he sent to Congress after he took office in 2009. With the support of House Democratic leadership and the President, the Blue Dogs worked tirelessly to get Congress to reenact statutory PAYGO. Their efforts paid off in 2010 when President Obama signed the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010 into law, which established “a new budget enforcement mechanism generally requiring that direct spending and revenue legislation enacted into law not increase the deficit.” Once statutory PAYGO was reenacted, Democrats were able to pass significant legislation that was paid for, including the Affordable Care Act.
In addition to advocating for statutory PAYGO, the Blue Dogs have also continuously called for PAYGO to be included as part of House rules. When House Democrats attained the majority after the 2006 election, the Blue Dogs worked with House leadership to include PAYGO as part of House rules at the beginning of the 110th Congress. After House Republicans took over in 2011, they eliminated PAYGO from House rules. In January 2019, when Democrats once again attained the House majority, the Blue Dogs fought to protect PAYGO allowing it to once again be included as part of the House rules. During the 116th Congress, the measure received bipartisan support, including the support of almost every House Democrat.
No Budget, No Pay:
A longtime advocate for congressional reform and member of the Blue Dog Coalition, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee first introduced the No Budget, No Pay Act in 2011 after a Nashville constituent asked why Congress could miss budget and tax deadlines while the public has no such luxury. The Blue Dog Coalition backed the measure as a commonsense solution to force Congress to do its job on time, and has continued to advocate for the legislation to be implemented in its original form.
Rep. Cooper’s original No Budget, No Pay Act was permanent and halted paychecks for all House and Senate members if they missed annual deadlines for budget and appropriations bills. It prohibited members from receiving pay for each day past Sept. 30 that budget and spending bills did not pass, and Members were not allowed to recover the pay retroactively.
Congress overwhelmingly passed, and President Obama signed into law, a watered-down, one-year version of Rep. Cooper’s No Budget, No Pay Act in 2013. That year, the House and Senate passed individual budgets for the first time in four years. To this day, the Blue Dogs continue to call on Congress to pass Rep. Cooper’s original, permanent measure, citing the temporary 2013 measure as proof that the policy can work. Today, No Budget, No Pay remains the cornerstone of the Blue Dog Coalition’s government reform policy platform.
Fighting to End Partisan Gerrymandering:
Under the leadership of Rep. John Tanner of Tennessee, the Blue Dog Coalition began to take up the fight against partisan gerrymandering. Rep. Tanner first introduced legislation during the 109th Congress to require states to establish a bipartisan commission to redraw congressional district lines. Members agreed that partisan gerrymandering was driving out moderates from both parties, and, in turn, contributing to the increased partisan gridlock in Congress.
The following is an excerpt from a 2009 POLITICO interview with Rep. Tanner:
“I saw the middle completely deteriorating here, and I saw the gridlock of people who may be well-intentioned but just simply cannot afford to break out of the party mold because they’ll be defeated in a party primary if they get too chummy with the other side,” said Tanner, a founding member of the Blue Dog Coalition……That intense partisanship “has diminished the ability of the House, in my judgment, to come together to work in the middle with compromise and give-and-take to address some of the problems and find solutions to those problems that face us as Americans — not as Democrats or Republicans.”“If you look, the Blue Dogs are about the only group that consistently is unpredictable, in terms of party voting,” Tanner said, laughing.
In addition to supporting Rep. Tanner’s Fairness and Independence in Redistricting Act, the Blue Dogs have also long supported Rep. Tanner’s Redistricting Transparency Act, which would require states to publicize redistricting information online, including the data used in the process, details of the process, proposed maps and public hearing dates. Since Rep. Tanner’s retirement in 2010, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee has taken up the mantle to reintroduce both pieces of legislation each Congress, and the Blue Dogs continue to back both measures today. During the 116th Congress, the Blue Dogs fought to include and successfully secured redistricting reform measures in H.R. 1.
Advocating for Fiscal Responsibility:
Since its founding, the Blue Dog Coalition has advocated for balanced, bipartisan measures that will put the country on the path to fiscal sustainability. The group has long put pressure on Republican and Democratic leaders to work with one another to put forward bipartisan budgets rather than ones with only one party’s support. As part of its fiscal policy platform, the Coalition has long supported the concept of a Balanced Budget Amendment while protecting key safety net programs, including Social Security and Medicare.
In its early years, the Coalition produced alternative budgets as a mechanism to force Republicans — who held slim House majorities since the Coalition’s formation in 1995 until 2007 — to moderate their approach to putting the nation on the path to fiscal sustainability. As the nation’s fiscal state continued to worsen, the Coalition changed its strategy to instead put forward a blueprint for fiscal reform. This strategy led to many successes, including the implementation of several key policies. These policy successes included the following: 1) the establishment of a National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in 2010, 2) the enactment of the Improper Payments Elimination and Recovery Act of 2009, 3) the enactment of the Government Efficiency, Effectiveness, and Performance Improvement Act of 2009, and 4) the enactment of the Government Performance and Results Modernization Act of 2010.
Today, the Blue Dogs continue to support a Balanced Budget Amendment that protects key safety net programs, and put forward a blueprint for fiscal reform to help put the nation back on the path to fiscal sustainability.
Enhancing Economic Growth:
The Blue Dog Coalition has long been committed to ensuring that government regulations do not inhibit economic growth in addition to identifying other policies that enhance job creation. Throughout the group’s history, they have backed measures to modify, consolidate or repeal existing regulations that harm private sector growth and innovation. Additionally, the Coalition has backed certain measures to create jobs, such as policies that would entice American companies selling their goods and services abroad to bring earnings back to the United States for investment, and other measures to ensure workers have the skills America’s manufacturers need to compete in today’s economy.
During the 115th Congress, as part of an effort to negotiate with House Republicans on tax reform legislation, the Blue Dogs put forward an alternative tax reform proposal. The proposal called for the following:
Republicans must abandon the failed, partisan reconciliation process for major reform, and follow through with the expectation of using an open, bipartisan process and regular order.
Tax reform must be credibly revenue neutral, and unrealistic, rosy economic-growth projections should not be used to offset the costs of tax reform or tax relief.
The middle class must be the priority, and tax reform should not shift the distributional balance to the wealthy.
American companies need a more competitive corporate tax rate and structure in order to maintain their ability to compete globally. Congress must also account for the needs of small businesses when it comes to setting tax rates.
Congress should consider using tax reform as an opportunity to address the funding challenges for the Highway Trust Fund.
In the end, the Republicans pursued partisan tax cut legislation that was projected to add trillions to the deficit over the next decade. Every Blue Dog member voted against the legislation, citing the lack of fiscal discipline.
Stregthening our National Security:
In recent years, the Blue Dog Coalition has expanded its policy portfolio on national defense to include national security matters, with the goal of pursuing smart, strategic national security policies that will strengthen the country’s national defense and ensure the safety of the United States in the face of evolving threats both at home and abroad. Historically, the Coalition has supported sufficient funding to support the U.S. military and continues to do so today. In recent years, the Coalition has weighed into other means to strengthen national security. They include the following:
Strengthening Counterterrorism Measures: During the 115th Congress, the Blue Dogs backed a bipartisan measure to establish a whole-of-government strategy to combat the financing of terrorism. The measure was signed into law in 2017. After the horrific events that took place in Charlottesville, VA, in August 2017, the Blue Dogs called on the House Homeland Security Committee to hold public hearings regarding domestic terrorism related to white supremacist groups. In addition to that, the Blue Dogs backed the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act, which aims to prevent acts of domestic terrorism by white supremacists and other extremist groups. They continue to support the measure today.
Securing U.S. Elections: In the wake of the conclusions presented in Volume I of the Mueller report, the Blue Dog Coalition took the lead in Congress to call for a comprehensive, bipartisan effort to secure U.S. elections, hold Russia accountable for its attempts to meddle in the 2016 and 2018 elections, and deter other adversaries from interfering in future elections. In the summer of 2019, the Blue Dogs took initiative to raise the alarm by endorsing a package of legislative proposals that have earned bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The news of the Blue Dog proposal received praise from political leaders, policy experts, and organizations with national security expertise. Additionally, the threat of increased sanctions on Russia included in the Blue Dog proposal caused the value of the Russian ruble to drop.
Providing a Voice for Rural America:
For the first time in the Coalition’s history, during the 115th Congress, the Blue Dogs launched a task force focused on producing meaningful solutions for the rural communities across the country that were left behind after the Great Recession. Through that effort, the Coalition’s members — many of whom represent districts that include rural and underserved communities — provided a voice for rural America within the Democratic Caucus. The Blue Dog Special Task Force on Rural America put forward an agenda intended to provide a roadmap for Congress to take a commonsense, bipartisan approach to revitalizing rural communities and addressing the level of inequality between rural and urban America. That agenda included five key policy proposals: 1) Growing the rural economy; 2) Increasing access to affordable health care; 3) Empowering the next generation of workers with the skills they need to succeed; 4) Expanding 21st century infrastructure to rural America in order to connect businesses with the global market; and 5) Ensuring rural veterans get the care and services they need after they return home.
In the 116th Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition established the Task Force on Rural Opportunity to ensure that the group would continue to provide a voice for rural communities within the Democratic Caucus.