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Are the Fiscally Conservative Democrats Scared or Just Tired?

December 15th, 2009 . by economistmom

I find this story in today’s Washington Post troubling, because it contains the names of quite a few Blue Dog Democrats or otherwise fiscally-responsible Democrats I’ve worked for at the House Budget Committee and House Ways and Means Committee.  From the story (my emphasis and references added):

House Democrats got a jolt Monday when a fourth lawmaker in a matter of weeks announced his retirement, leaving party officials and strategists fearful that they represent the leading edge of a wave of departures that could leave the Democrats vulnerable to significant losses in the 2010 midterm elections.

The most recent retirement came when Rep. Bart Gordon (Tenn.) [a Blue Dog Dem] decided not to seek a 14th term. While Gordon emphasized his desire to pursue other opportunities after 25 years in the House, party insiders acknowledged that he was swayed by the prospect of a highly competitive contest next November.

Gordon joins Reps. Dennis Moore (Kan.) [a Blue Dog Dem and member of the House Budget Committee during the last Congress], John Tanner (Tenn.) [a Blue Dog Dem and member of the House Ways and Means Committee] and Brian Baird (Wash.) [a member of the House Budget Committee last Congress] as Democratic members in swing districts who have announced their retirements in the past two weeks…

“Four retirements in and of themselves isn’t enough to create a big problem,” said Martin Frost, a former chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. “If there were to be 10 or 15 retirements like this, that is a problem for the DCCC.”…

Gordon’s retirement in particular came as a psychological blow to Democrats. Party strategists who pay close attention to House races anticipate that a number of longtime House members, particularly those in swing districts or areas of traditional Republican strength, will poll their districts early next year and decide after that whether to seek reelection.

Among the names mentioned as potential retirements if the political environment does not improve are Rep. John M. Spratt Jr. (S.C.) [current chairman of the House Budget Committee (and my previous boss)], Vic Snyder and Marion Berry (Ark.) [a Blue Dog Dem and current member of House Budget], and Rep. Chet Edwards (Tex.) [current member of House Budget].

My concern is less about the usual mid-term turnover of the President’s party and more that by losing the Democrats of above-average fiscal responsibility, the Democratic Party overall will become less fiscally responsible–and just at a time when we need leaders who can be viewed as allies of the party in power and yet push for fiscal responsibility in a way that’s credible and compelling, both to the leaders of the party as well as to the American people.

Many of those members listed above are people who over the past decade have spoken passionately and persuasively about the need to get back to living within our means in the federal budget.  They are policymakers who lived through the Clinton era and know that the fiscal responsibility of that era paid off.  And they are policymakers who during the last Bush Administration were truly horrified over the deterioration in the budget outlook.

In my opinion we just can’t afford to lose any more courageous Democrats.

4 Responses to “Are the Fiscally Conservative Democrats Scared or Just Tired?”

  1. comment number 1 by: SteveinCH

    I certainly don’t know the ins and outs of Congress as well as most but I’d be curious how many of these members you are concerned about Diane voted for the “minibus” spending bills that just passed the Congress.

    I’ve looked it up and here you go:

    Moore (aye)
    Gordon (nay)
    Tanner (nay)
    Baird (nay)

    Spratt (aye)
    Snyder (aye)
    Barry (aye)
    Edwards (aye)

    Quick reaction. I may miss the four that decided to retire but not the four mentioned as being on the bubble. Maybe some of them have spoken about living within our means but given the opportunity to vote against a 12% spending increase in a negative inflation environment, 5 of the 8 people cited in the article declined to do so.

    More broadly, I suspect you are confusing budgetary responsibility with politics on both sides of the aisle. In general Republicans opposed Democrats and vice versa. Since both parties in power are fiscally irresponsible when they have both the Congress and the White House, the party out of power appears more responsible. Actually, they are just the opposition.

    For a while I thought Republicans were fiscally responsible. The Bush administration taught me the error of my ways. I would say however that Bush was a piker relative to Obama and the current crop of Democrats.

  2. comment number 2 by: Deb

    Regardless, there is a more important underlying issue - why would anyone want to run for political office? especially considering what you put your family through, the travel, exposure, etc. and yourself…and the fact that I really don’t believe you can keep your moral stance without compromising and get to the top - so the choice is a very difficult one, and not compelling (I think)

  3. comment number 3 by: economistmom

    Steve: yeah, the roll call votes on that bill are interesting, eye-opening… I think what we’re seeing in them is not necessarily that those who already announced retirement were the more fiscally responsible ones, but maybe that retirement itself “frees” them to make the tough choice and take the fiscally-responsible vote. I suspect we could use this data to do an empirical study to prove that politicians are bad for the fiscal outlook; it might support my tongue-in-cheek proposal that what we really need is a benevolent dictator.

  4. comment number 4 by: SteveinCH


    I’ve always been in favor of the philosopher king, if only I could figure out where to find one : )