Blue Dogs in hid­ing

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

For more than two months, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has de­nied mem­bers of that cham­ber the op­por­tu­nity to vote on one of the most im­por­tant pieces of na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion be­fore Congress this year. That leg­is­la­tion is a bi­par­ti­san bill passed by the Se­nate in Fe­bru­ary that would grant retroac­tive im­mu­nity to telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies which helped the gov­ern­ment mon­i­tor ter­ror­ist com­mu­ni­ca­tions af­ter Septem­ber 11. So, House Repub­li­cans, led by Reps. Vito Fos­sella and Peter King of New York, are seek­ing to get around this ob­struc­tion­ism by em­ploy­ing a “dis­charge pe­ti­tion.” If 218 House mem­bers sign the pe­ti­tion, the House would get to vote on the is­sue no mat­ter what Mrs. Pelosi says.

As of April 30, Mr. Fos­sella and Mr. King had got­ten 184 mem­bers — all of them Repub­li­cans — to sign the pe­ti­tion, which be­gan cir­cu­lat­ing eight days ago. But with Democrats com­pris­ing a 234-198 ma­jor­ity of the House, the dis­charge pe­ti­tion will fail un­less at least 20 mem­bers of the ma­jor­ity party are will­ing to defy Mrs. Pelosi and the rest of the party lead­er­ship in or­der to sign — an act that could jeop­ar­dize a mem­ber’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer (at least if he or she in­tends to re­main a Demo­crat and a mem­ber of the House). The log­i­cal place to look for th­ese Demo­cratic votes is the House Blue Dog Coali­tion — a group of self-styled moder­ates and even a few con­ser­va­tive Democrats. Twenty-one Blue Dog mem­bers signed a Jan. 28 let­ter to Mrs. Pelosi urg­ing sup­port for the Se­nate bill, but the speaker ig­nored them. Three times this year, she has sent the House on vacation rather than al­low­ing them to vote on FISA.

Be­fore the House left town in March on one such vacation, the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship rammed through on a 213-197 vote FISA leg­is­la­tion they knew that Pres­i­dent Bush would not sign be­cause it lacked retroac­tive li­a­bil­ity pro­tec­tion. The lead­er­ship would have lost with­out the votes of 14 Blue Dogs who signed the Jan. 28 let­ter. What is hap­pen­ing is no mys­tery: The Blue Dogs are un­der in­tense pres­sure from pow­er­ful Demo­cratic Party con­stituen­cies, in­clud­ing the trial lawyers, who see lit­i­ga­tion against large firms like AT&T as a po­ten­tial gold­mine. The an­ti­war blogs (such as Talk­ing Points Memo, Huff­in­g­ton Post and Daily Kos) have kept up a steady drum­beat of pres­sure on the Blue Dogs while di­rect­ing vit- riol at any Demo­cratic law­maker who even hints at at­tempt­ing to reach a com­pro­mise with the White House. (In ad­di­tion to Blue Dog Coali­tion mem­bers, House Ma­jor­ity Leader Steny Hoyer is a par­tic­u­lar tar­get of their fire.) And fi­nally, there is the Demo­cratic lead­er­ship it­self, which would be em­bar­rassed if a dis­charge pe­ti­tion suc­ceeds.

House Demo­cratic lead­ers seem al­most ob­sessed with pun­ish­ing telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions com­pa­nies. Last year, House En­ergy and Com­merce Com­mit­tee Chair­man John Din­gell of Michi­gan, joined by Rep. Ed Markey of Mas­sachusetts, a House mem­ber for more than 30 years, and Rep. Bart Stu­pak of Michi­gan, launched their own in­ves­ti­ga­tions of whether AT&T, Ver­i­zon and Qwest il­le­gally dis­closed cus­tomer records by com­ply­ing with intelligence-agency re­quests for data. But even that’s not enough for the ob­struc­tion­ists.

The Blue Dog Coali­tion mem­bers — in par­tic­u­lar those who signed the Jan. 28 let­ter — should stiffen their re­solve. Fol­low­ing are the names of the 21 Blue Dog Democrats who signed the Pelosi let­ter but have failed to sign the dis­charge pe­ti­tion: Joe Baca (Cal­i­for­nia); John Bar­row (Ge­or­gia); Melissa Bean (Illi­nois); Mar­ion Berry (Arkansas); Dan Boren (Oklahoma); Leonard Boswell (Iowa); Allen Boyd (Florida); Christo­pher Car­ney (Penn­syl­va­nia); Jim Cooper (Ten­nessee); Bud Cramer (Alabama); Lin­coln Davis (Ten­nessee); Brad Ellsworth (In­di­ana); Tim Holden (Penn­syl­va­nia); Jim Mathe­son (Utah); Char­lie Me­lan­con (Louisiana); Den­nis Moore (Kansas); Earl Pomeroy (North Dakota); Mike Ross (Arkansas); Heath Shuler (North Carolina); Zack Space (Ohio); and John Tan­ner (Ten­nessee).

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