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Blue Dogs Want to Get Back Into the Hunt

Fiscally conservative Democrats eyeing new strategy in House

Blue Dog Democrats are hunting for the middle ground in the partisan fight over spending and taxes, and they are looking at centrist Republicans as potential allies.

To help the effort, they will soon start meeting with members of The Tuesday Group, a lineup of centrist Republicans, looking to build cooperation on a range of issues. And if they’re successful, they can make up an important bloc in a House that has needed ad hoc coalitions of Democrats and Republicans to enact major legislation in recent months and likely will need such alliances to pass future measures, such as a new continuing resolution or a bill to replace the sequester.

The short-term debt limit extension enacted Feb. 4 included a fiscal conservative Blue Dog triumph: the “no budget, no pay” provision. Patterned on a Cooper bill, the measure would suspend salaries of lawmakers in either chamber if their chamber fails to adopt a budget resolution by April 15.

Cooper’s bill would have suspended the salaries unless both chambers adopted a budget conference report and completed all the fiscal 2014 appropriations bill. But he said he’s satisfied with the result, and he predicted that lawmakers will be under heavy pressure to adopt budget resolutions.

“Pay will stop. Your spouse won’t excuse you just because it’s held in escrow,” Cooper said.

Last week, Blue Dogs backed a contentious GOP proposal sponsored by Tom Price of Georgia aimed at pressuring Obama to submit a budget proposal that would include a description of when the budget would balance. The House passed the measure, 253-167, on Feb. 6. with Blue Dogs providing many of the 26 Democratic “yes” votes. Schrader unsuccessfully pushed an amendment — backed by 75 lawmakers in both parties — that would have added a requirement for Obama to use the recommendations of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform in developing a deficit reduction plan. That was well short of the majority needed for adoption, but it was about double the number of votes a similar proposal got in the last Congress.

With both parties deeply divided on fiscal priorities, Schrader and Cooper say Blue Dogs are promoting a conciliatory approach that would allow new tax revenue raised from closing loopholes to help Republicans push for lower tax rates and to help Democrats finance part of the cost of reducing the deficit.

The idea of using tax revenue to meet priorities of both parties has run into opposition on both sides, but Cooper says he will continue to push for a tax overhaul that ultimately could raise $400 billion to $600 billion by eliminating tax breaks for individuals and companies. If a tax overhaul plan takes shape, Cooper said Blue Dogs could help build consensus for a compromise that would allow the proceeds to be split, with some going to lower tax rates and some to deficit reduction.

Cooper and Rep. Charlie Dent of Pennsylvania, a leader of The Tuesday Group, said centrists in both parties share an interest in pushing for a grand bargain on the debt and cultivating compromises on a range of other issues, including immigration and gun control.

The Blue Dogs and The Tuesday Group plan to talk about their shared interests in joint meetings that will start this month.

Another potential shared priority could be legislation to require more transparency in the redistricting process, including a proposal by Cooper to require advance posting on the Internet of draft redistricting maps.

“In the gerrymandered world, which we will have for the next eight years, we are the only people that can help Democrats win back the majority,” Cooper said. “We are the only ones, who are proven winners in swing districts. We are the only survivors.”

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