Blue Dog Democrat founder Charlie Stenholm on their influence in health care reform debate

07/31/09 Seán Kinane
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A small group of fiscally conservative Democrats known as the Blue Dogs are having an effect on the health care reform debate that may be disproportionate to their numbers in Congress.

This afternoon in Tampa, WMNF spoke with a co-founder of the Blue Dogs, Charlie Stenholm, who represented parts of central Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1979 until 2005.

The Blue Dog Democrats, formed in 1995, share some fiscal ideology with Republicans. Before an election, Representative Stenholm says he was “as partisan a Democrat as they come.” But after an election Stenholm says he wanted to work with members of both major parties.

Three conservative Democrats in the Senate have been negotiating a health care bill compromise with three Republican Senators. In the House, Blue Dogs in the Energy and Commerce Committee have reached a compromise with chair Henry Waxman to reduce the cost of the bill. Former Representative Stenholm is pleased with the current influence and prominence of the Blue Dogs.

But many progressives think the compromises pushed by the Blue Dogs weaken the bill too much. On Thursday, 57 of them wrote a letter to Democratic House leaders calling it “fundamentally unacceptable.” The letter continues, “This agreement is not a step forward toward a good health care bill, but a large step backwards. Any bill that does not provide, at a minimum, for a public option with reimbursement rates based on Medicare rates -not negotiated rates -is unacceptable. It would ensure higher costs for the public plan, and would do nothing to achieve the goal of ‘keeping insurance companies honest,’ and their rates down.” Those 57 members conclude, “we simply cannot vote for such a proposal.”

Does former Representative Stenholm feel that the Blue Dogs’ compromise could keep any health care reform from happening? “If you can’t get all of your solution, then what part of a compromise do you want to be part of? That’s the way the system’s going to ultimately work, too.”

Members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus have proposed a solution – single payer universal health care. Representative John Conyers’ Medicare for all bill, HR 676 would do that. Many supporters of single-payer in Congress have said they would be willing to compromise and support a strong public health care option that would compete with private insurers.

Blue Dog coalition

Congressional Progressive Caucus

Progressive Caucus letter

HR 676

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