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Democrats, Allies Will Do Nothing To Blue Dogs Voting Against Democratic Agenda

Democrats talked a big game leading up to the March 21 vote on health care reform, insisting that House Dems who voted against the bill would lose funding, face primary challenges, and basically get drummed out of the party. It took all of a few weeks for them to stand down from that bluff.

LOGAN, Ohio—Democrats here are furious with Rep. Zack Space’s vote against the recent landmark health care legislation. His once-strong relationship with local labor chapters is strained. Past campaign supporters claim their congressman’s decision to flip from ‘yes’ on the bill in November to ‘no’ in March reinforced a deep sense of cynicism about politics.

And yet most of them plan to vote for his reelection.

As unhappy as they are about Space’s health care vote — and as distasteful as they found it — many local labor officials, party leaders and activists say the alternative is far worse. They recognize that their neighbors in the southeastern Ohio-based district Space represents tend to be conservative-minded and are well-aware that a Republican represented the district for 12 long years until stepping down amid scandal in 2006.

Every district is different, and perhaps Space’s case is unique. But I wouldn’t be surprised if not one of the 34 House Democrats who voted No on March 21 faced any repercussions from local or national leaders. The DCCC and the House Majority Leader already intervened in a potential primary in South Dakota against Stephanie Herseth Sandlin.

Politicians can vote however they want. Indeed, when challenged by constituents, Space criticized the bill from the left, calling the excise tax on high-end insurance plans “a tax on middle-class families to provide for the working poor,” and lamenting that insurance companies got 30 million new customers (that’s not correct, the real number is about 17 million) without any meaningful competition.

I’m more interested in the utter lack of credible threats and accountability from the Democratic leadership. Sure, they got their 219 votes to pass the bill. But they won’t make good on the proposed punishment, so why should any caucus member fear defying the leadership ever again? There will never be another more high-profile vote possibly in the lifetime of these Democrats. If accountability cannot be secured now, it never will.

And so you have a couple dozen Blue Dogs and fiscal scolds in the caucus prepared to vote against every important piece of the Democratic agenda that comes to the floor. These members do not hold the fate of the majority in their hands, they just pad the numbers. And they dilute the Democratic brand, giving cover to the other side to vote in lockstep opposition.

Meanwhile, it’s highly unlikely that any of those Democrats who did vote No saved their seats with their actions. The response to Betsy Markey’s Yes vote from those who paid attention to the proceedings suggest that the base would have abandoned her if she flipped the other way. Strategic voting of this type to present yourself as palatable to crossover voters rarely works. The economic environment usually makes for a more contributing factor anyway, and given a choice between Republican and Republican-lite, the genuine article usually wins.

The lack of accountability suffuses practically every aspect of political life these days. This is but another example.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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