Blue Dogs turn pink at prospect of health care ruling

Brandon Howell Contributor, Georgia Tipsheet
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As lawmakers, activists, hacks and flacks alike wait with bated breath for the Supreme Court’s imminent opinion on the constitutionality of the Democrats’ health care law, expected to be revealed on Thursday, Washington’s lingering crop of Blue Dog Democrats are laying the markers for rough re-election bids.

Some are weighing whether to attack the court or the conservatives who fomented the decision, but all are increasingly desperate to move past it. The Blue Dogs were complicit in Obamacare’s adoption, and any reminder of that complicity is a nuisance to their efforts to feign moderation.

No one understands this better than embattled Georgia Congressman John Barrow. Facing a redrawn district that favors Republicans (just 44% of its vote went to Obama in 2008), Barrow is struggling to balance the liberal interests backing his campaign with the political realities of rural Georgia. Like former Blue Dog Jim Marshall, who represented a neighboring Georgia district until his defeat in 2010 by Republican Austin Scott, Barrow voted against Obamacare but has refused to say that he will vote to repeal it. Scott defeated Marshall in a district that gave a similar percentage of the vote to Obama in 2008, and he did so by vowing to fight for Obamacare’s repeal and railing against Marshall’s vote for the 2009 stimulus package. In all likelihood, Barrow will face a similar refrain this fall.

Barrow will be forced to react to the Supreme Court’s decision, one way or another. If the court strikes down all or parts of the law, he could deride the decision and indict conservatives of “attempting to rob Americans of quality health care.” Or he could praise the decision as a step in the right direction, in order to beef up his conservative credentials in his largely conservative district. More likely, he’ll try to maintain radio silence, as public posturing will only further enable Republicans to point out his hypocrisy.

Barrow is not alone; similar perils face Blue Dogs nationwide this year. The group has largely abandoned the fiscally conservative principles it was founded on, and now its members are facing the political consequences of doing so. Whether they decide to attack the court or stand up for the fiscally conservative principles they claim to support may determine the long-term viability of their caucus.

Of course, if the Supreme Court strikes down the mandate — or the entire law —- and the Blue Dogs praise the court for doing so, it will be out of political convenience, not principle. Sadly for them, and fortunately for us, Americans are increasingly aware of the political doublespeak that runs rampant among the so-called moderates of the Democratic Party. John Barrow may bob and weave from now until November, but his — and the Blue Dogs’ — time is probably up.

Brandon Howell serves as account services director for Hynes Communications and is a contributor to the new Peach State political blog Georgia Tipsheet.