Blue Dog Legislative Accomplishments
Information courtesy of the Congressional Research Service
Legislative Achievements: 112th Congress (2011-2013)
Due to a historic number of Democratic losses, the Republican Party became the majority party in the House during the 112th Congress, 242-193. The Blue Dog Coalition had 26 members at the outset of the 112th Congress, eventually down to 24 members after the resignations of Representatives Jane Harman (to lead the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars) and Gabrielle Giffords (to focus on her recovery following an assassination attempt). In April 2012, Rep. Larry Kissell joined the Blue Dog Coalition, increasing their membership number to 25.
While the Blue Dogs have historically been particularly active on fiscal issues, the Coalition decided to develop four task forces not only focusing on fiscal responsibility and accountability, but also energy, economic growth, and oversight and regulatory review.
On February 8, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 3521, the Expedited Legislative Line-Item Veto and Rescissions Act of 2011, a budget tool Blue Dogs fought hard to enact. The Blue Dogs said the measure will help Congress and the President better work together to reduce unnecessary spending. Expedited rescission – similar to a line-item veto in concept – is a key component of the Blue Dogs’ 2010 Blueprint for Fiscal Reform. The Blue Dog Coalition officially endorsed expedited rescission legislation in March 2011, arguing the measure was needed to help restore some fiscal discipline back to the federal government by forcing Congress and the President to target, reduce and eliminate specific pork projects and wasteful government programs that continue to drain the federal pocketbook.
Legislative Achievements: 111th Congress (2009-2010)
The Blue Dog Coalition had 51 members at the outset of the 111th Congress and 53 members when it ended.
The Democratic Party increased its majority status in the House during the 111th Congress to 256-178, with one vacancy at the outset of the 111th Congress. The Blue Dog Coalition continued to focus its activity on promoting what Representative Melancon referred to on the House floor as the need for “fiscal responsibility.”
In January 2010, the Blue Dog Coalition officially announced a Blueprint for Fiscal Reform – a comprehensive, 15-point plan to balance the budget and lay the groundwork for sound fiscal policies over the long term, listed below.
1. Restore Pay-As-You-Go budget rules. The first step we can take to ensure that government does not spend beyond its means is to restore the proven, bipartisan pay-as-you-go (PAYGO) rules that effectively brought about budget surpluses in the 1990’s. Congress later passed, and the President signed into law, the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go Act of 2010, that “establishes a new budget enforcement mechanism generally requiring that direct spending and revenue legislation enacted into law not increase the deficit.”
2. Put the lid on federal spending. In addition to balancing the federal checkbook, Congress should set limits on discretionary spending. Just like American families who make tough decisions every day, Congress must learn to live within its means.
3. Cut programs that don’t work. Congress must work with the Administration to identify and cut programs that don’t work. A commonsense budget enforcement tool, “expedited rescission” was passed by the House with bipartisan support in the 1990’s. Passed the House of Representatives on Feb. 8, 2012.
4. Reduce the deficit. This tool forces Congress to live within its means by keeping our federal budget on setting a path towards balance. Congress would be required to cut spending to meet these targets, effectively reducing the deficit over time.
5. Balance the budget. A critical component of the plan, a constitutional amendment would require that Congress balance the budget by 2020.
6. Be honest about our long term fiscal obligations. Congress should be required to produce an honest and open assessment of the government’s long-term financial obligations as part of the budget resolution every year.
7. Establish a bipartisan fiscal commission. A fiscal reform commission should be established to force Congress’ hand in making the tough decisions necessary to put the country back on a fiscally sustainable path. The President signed Executive Order for National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform on Feb. 18, 2011.
8. Improve transparency and accountability. Congress has a responsibility to hold government agencies accountable for wasteful spending. This measure would reduce the estimated $98 billion that is wasted annually when a federal agency pays too much or pays twice for a product or service. H.R. 3393, signed into law by the President on July 22, 2011.
9. Establish performance-based budgeting. Performance-based budgeting is a results oriented budget tool that sets goals and performance targets for agencies, and measures their results, much like a small business. It is a commonsense policy that has been successfully implemented on the state level for many years. H.R. 2142, signed into law by the President on Jan. 4, 2011.
10. Eliminate waste, fraud and abuse. Research shows that for every $1.00 we put into “program integrity accounts” that identify and eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in government spending, we get $1.50 back. The authorization levels for these programs should be increased.
11. Account for every dollar. Evaluating every dollar spent on our national defense is not only good fiscal practice; it is a matter of national security. Like all other major federal agencies, the Department of Defense should be subject to annual audits. Senators John McCain and Claire McCaskill have already introduced this measure in the Senate.
12. Close tax loopholes. It is critical that the federal government continue to identify and report loopholes and inefficiencies within the current tax system. We can expand on these reports to reflect the total revenue lost and to identify inefficient tax subsidies.
13. Take the politics out of the equation. In order to promote efficiency and eliminate undue political pressures, this provision would transition the Joint Committee on Taxation to an independent, nonpartisan legislative branch agency.
14. Eliminate duplication and inefficiency. Government programs that are duplicative or inefficient can be a substantial drain on the federal budget. Establishing an independent, bipartisan commission to recommend reorganizational changes to the federal government would help to streamline these programs and save taxpayer dollars.
15. Review and terminate unnecessary federal programs. A “Sunset Commission” should be established to conduct regular reviews of federal programs and agencies, and make recommendations as to those which should be terminated.
Legislative Achievements: 110th Congress (2007-2008)
The Blue Dog Coalition began the 110th Congress with 44 members and ended the 110th Congress with 51 members. The Democratic Party became the majority in the House during the 110th Congress, 233-202. The Blue Dog Coalition continued to focus its activity on budgetary issues and renewed their efforts to adopt the 12-point budget plan, that they had advocated during the previous Congress.
According to media reports, the Blue Dog Coalition had good working relationships with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Representative John Spratt of South Carolina, chair of the House Budget Committee, and used those relationships to influence the House Democratic leadership’s budget proposal. For example, before drafting the chairman’s mark for the budget resolution, Representative Spratt and Majority Leader Hoyer held several “listening sessions” with various groups, including the Blue Dog Coalition.
Legislative Achievements: 109th Congress (2005-2006)
The Blue Dog Coalition had 37 members during the 109th Congress. The House Republican Party’s majority during in the 109th Congress increased to 232-202, with one Independent who was aligned with the Democrats. As in past Congresses, the Blue Dog Coalition focused its activities on the budget.
On February 16, 2005, the Blue Dog Coalition announced a 12-point budget plan to reduce the federal budget deficit. The plan included support for a constitutional amendment to require the federal government to balance its budget every year, a restoration of PAYGO rules, a requirement for a roll call vote to raise the federal debt ceiling, a requirement that bills be available for three days prior to votes to enable Members to examine the bills more carefully, a requirement that Congress have a separate vote on items designated as emergency spending, support for President George Bush’s proposed discretionary spending amounts, a requirement for clear written justifications for any earmarks added to legislation, and opposition to any reduction of Social Security benefits to balance the budget. At that time, the federal debt was about $7.7 trillion, the federal budget deficit for FY2005 was $427 billion, and the Bush Administration’s FY2006 budget proposal projected a federal deficit of $390 billion.
Legislative Achievements: 108th Congress (2003-2004)
The Blue Dog Coalition had 35 members at the outset of the 108th Congress, and later during that Congress, grew to 37 members. The House Republican Party’s majority during in the 108th Congress remained relatively slim, 229-205, with one independent who aligned with the Democrats.
The Blue Dog Coalition advocated a return of PAYGO rules as a means to control federal spending. For example, during consideration of the FY2005 concurrent budget resolution Representative Stenholm described the Blue Dog Coalition’s alternative budget proposal, noting differences between their budget proposal and others:
Our country has a massive problem with fiscal deficits today. Our budget is built around the simple concept of pay as you go. If we want to pass a tax cut, cut spending to make room for it or raise some other tax to keep it from going to the bottom-line deficit…. Our plan would cut the deficit in half in 2 years and put the budget on a path back towards budget surpluses in 2012 and balance in 2010. Our budget has $210 billion less debt over the next 5 years than the resolution reported by the Committee on the Budget.
The Blue Dog budget includes the pay-as-you-go rules that were adopted by a bipartisan vote in the Senate, as well as enforceable limits on discretionary spending. The Blue Dog budget adopts the tough spending limits by adopting the President’s overall spending levels, but reallocates funding to put more resources into veterans, education, health care, and other priorities, and keeps from reopening the farm bill and also providing assistance to small businesses, manufacturers, firemen and policemen, the first responders in the war on terrorism.
Most importantly, our budget would reduce the debt tax that all American families, as well as our children and grandchildren would have to pay, in order to pay interest on our national debt.
Legislative Achievements: 107th Congress (2001-2002)
The Blue Dog Coalition had 33 members during the 107th Congress. The House Republican Party’s majority during in the 107th Congress was a relatively slim one, 221-212, with two independents, one aligned with each party. Once again, the Blue Dog Coalition viewed the Republican Party’s slim majority as an opportunity to serve as a broker between the House Republican and Democratic leadership.
During the 107th Congress, the federal budget situation changed from one of projected budget surpluses to projected budget deficits, due, at least in part, to a national economic slowdown which depressed revenue. The Blue Dog Coalition continued to advocate for a balanced federal budget, not allowing surpluses from Social Security to mask the extent of the federal budget deficit, and paying down the national debt, then estimated at around $6 trillion.
The Blue Dog Coalition also advocated the extension of PAYGO rules, which expired near the end of the 107th Congress, as a means to promote fiscal discipline in the House. Also, on May 6, 2002, Representative Dennis Moore of Kansas introduced on behalf of the Blue Dog Coalition H.R. 4758, the Restore Fiscal Discipline and Safeguard Social Security Act of 2002. It would have:
- made it out of order for the House or the Senate to consider any bill or amendment that would increase the public debt limit above $6.1 trillion by more than $100 billion, except in specified circumstances,
- directed the President to submit to Congress a proposal to bring the budget (excluding the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund and the Federal Disability Insurance Trust Fund) into balance or surplus by FY 2007,
- made it out of order for the House or the Senate, whenever the most recent CBO report projects an on-budget deficit for any fiscal year, to consider any concurrent resolution on the budget that: (1) sets forth or assumes an on-budget deficit for any such fiscal year larger than such projection; (2) sets forth or assumes a budget that is not in on-budget balance or surplus within four fiscal years, and is not in on-budget balance or surplus for any covered subsequent fiscal year; or (3) contains any reduction in social security benefits, and
- made it out of order for the House or the Senate, whenever the most recent CBO report projects both on-budget surpluses (or a balanced budget) and deficits for the fiscal years concerned, to consider any concurrent resolution on the budget that: (1) sets forth or assumes an on-budget deficit for any fiscal year for which the CBO projection is for an on-budget surplus or balance; or (2) contains any reduction in social security benefits.
The bill was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means, the House Committee on the Budget, and the House Committee on Rules, but was not reported for floor consideration.
During the 107th Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition also endorsed a discharge petition, sponsored by Representative Turner, 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. The Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 was passed by the House on February 14, 2002, by a vote of 240-189, and became law on March 27, 2002.
Legislative Achievements: 106th Congress (1999-2000)
The Blue Dog Coalition had 30 members during the 106th Congress. The House Republican Party’s majority during in the 106th Congress was reduced to 223-211. Once again, the Blue Dog Coalition viewed the Republican Party’s slim majority as an opportunity to serve as a broker between the House Republican and Democratic leadership.
The Blue Dog Coalition’s priorities for the 106th Congress were to reduce the federal budget deficit and to reduce the estate tax. At that time, the federal government was projected to have a budget surplus of $2.6 trillion over 10 years. The House Republican leadership viewed the projected surplus primarily as an opportunity to reduce federal taxes, the House Democratic leadership viewed the projected surplus primarily as an opportunity to increase federal domestic spending, and the Blue Dog Coalition viewed the projected surplus primarily as an opportunity to pay down the federal debt and as an opportunity to increase domestic spending, but by less than the amount favored by the House Democratic leadership and to reduce federal taxes, but by less than the amount advocated by the House Republican leadership.
The Blue Dog Coalition focused most of its activity during the 106th Congress on budgetary issues. On March 25, 1999, the House voted on three amendments in the nature of a substitute to the concurrent resolution on the budget, H.Con.Res. 68: a proposal reflecting President Clinton’s budget submission, a proposal endorsed by the House Democratic leadership, and a proposal sponsored by the Blue Dog Coalition authored by Representative David Minge of Minnesota. President Clinton’s budget proposal was defeated by a vote of 2-426, the House Democratic leadership’s endorsed budget proposal was defeated by a vote of 173-250, and the Blue Dog Coalition’s budget proposal was defeated by a vote of 134-295. The Blue Dog Coalition’s proposal would have reserved 100% of the Social Security surplus for Social Security, allocate 50% of the on-budget surplus to debt reduction, 25% for tax relief ($41.7 billion), and 25% for specified spending priorities. Their proposal was designed to reduce the federal debt (then approximately $5.5 trillion) by $857 billion over five years
The Blue Dog Coalition also sponsored legislation during the 106th Congress to reduce the estate tax (H.R. 5315, the Death Tax Relief Now Act of 2000, introduced by Representative John Tanner) and continued to support campaign finance reform legislation.
Legislative Achievements: 105th Congress (1997-1998)
The Blue Dog Coalition began the 105th Congress with 21 members, and by the end of the 105th Congress had 24 members. The House Republican Party’s majority during in the 105th Congress was reduced to 227-207. The Blue Dog Coalition’s leaders viewed the Republican Party’s slim majority as an opportunity to serve as a broker between the House Republican and Democratic leadership on budgetary issues. They focused most of their legislative activities during the 105th Congress on efforts to reduce the federal budget deficit and on campaign finance reform.
The Blue Dog Coalition announced a five-year federal budget proposal, “The Common Sense Balanced Budget for FY1998,” on February 26, 1997. They recommended reductions in projected future spending of $120.7 billion for Medicare and $26 billion for Medicaid, and $166 billion for defense and domestic spending over five years to achieve a balanced budget by FY2002, and a balanced budget not counting Social Security surpluses by FY2005.
The House Committee on Rules did not make the Blue Dog Coalition’s alternative budget proposal for FY1998 in order during House consideration of the budget resolution on the House floor. Although their alternative budget proposal was not voted on, the Blue Dog Coalition continued to work with House Majority Leader Gephardt as he crafted the House Democratic alternative budget resolution and with moderate Republicans in an attempt to shape the federal budget debate.
Representative Stenholm and fellow Blue Dog Coalition member Representative Scott Baesler of Kentucky were very active in promoting campaign finance legislation during the 105th Congress. The Blue Dog Coalition initiated an effort to force consideration of campaign finance legislation by endorsing a discharge petition on campaign finance legislation filed by Representative Baesler in October 1997. As the number of signatures on the discharge petition approached the 218 signatures necessary to force legislative action (204 signatures by April 23, 1998, including 12 Republican members), House Speaker Newt Gingrich of Georgia decided to allow campaign finance legislation to come to a vote in the House. House Majority Leader Gephardt thanked the Blue Dog Coalition on the House floor for “all the work that they have done” to bring campaign finance legislation to the House floor. The House later passed campaign finance legislation, H.R. 2183, the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 1998, on August 6, 1998, but the companion Senate measure did not receive a final vote.
Legislative Achievements: 104th Congress (1995-1996)
The Blue Dog Coalition’s first public announcement of a position on legislation was the release of a statement, on February 28, 1995, supporting welfare reform legislative language drafted by Representative Nathan Deal of Georgia, the Blue Dog Coalition’s co-chair for policy. House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt later endorsed this legislative language as the official House Democratic alternative to the Republican Party’s welfare reform legislation, H.R. 4, the Work Opportunity Act of 1995 (later vetoed by President Clinton and followed still later by H.R. 3734, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, which became law). Although Representative Deal’s alternative legislative language was defeated in the House along partisan lines on March 23, 1995, by a vote of 205-228, the House Democratic leadership’s acceptance of the proposal as its own solidified the Blue Dog Coalition’s position as an important player in the congressional legislative process.
At the outset of the 104th Congress, House Republican and Democratic leaders were unable to come to agreement over the budget. As the budget negotiations continued, the Blue Dog Coalition announced its own, alternative budget plan in May 1995. It would have reduced future projected spending to eliminate the federal deficit by FY2002, but not to the extent advocated by House Republicans, and it would delay any tax reductions until the budget was balanced. The media characterized the Blue Dog Coalition’s alternative budget proposal as occupying “a middle ground, reaching a balanced budget in seven years, which appealed to Republicans; proposed smaller cuts for social programs than the Republican budget, which appealed to some Democrats; and did not include tax cuts to balance the budget, which appealed to some Democrats.” Representatives Bill Orton of Utah, Charles Stenholm of Texas, and Bill Brewster of Oklahoma were the principal authors of the Blue Dog Coalition’s alternative budget proposal.
The Blue Dog Coalition’s alternative budget proposal was offered by House Minority Leader Gephardt as an amendment in the nature of a substitute to the concurrent budget resolution on May 18, 1995. The proposal was defeated by a vote of 100-325.
Although the Blue Dog Coalition’s budget proposal was not adopted, Representative Stenholm was later invited by House Minority Leader Gephardt to serve on the House negotiation team on the budget reconciliation bill, the only member of the negotiating team who was not a committee chair or ranking member.