Health Center Federal Policy

The Bark and Bite of the Blue Dogs

By John Sawyer

2000px-Littlebluedog.svgA little clarification for those uninitiated in Congressional lingo: if you tune into this week’s health care debate and hear people talking about “winning over the Blue Dogs,” the commentators haven’t gone colorblind or started hallucinating.

The “Blue Dogs” being referred to are, in fact, a group of 51 fiscally conservative House Democrats, and at the moment are the biggest obstacle to President Obama and House Democratic leaders’ attempts to pass health care reform before the August recess. 

An aside, in case you were curious: officially named the Blue Dog Coalition, the group came together in 1994 to represent the interests of more conservative, rural districts in national debates.  The name “Blue Dogs” is a play on the historical term “Yellow Dog Democrat” (meaning Democrats so loyal they’d vote for ‘a yellow dog over a Republican’) – the “blue” comes from the idea that moderate and conservative members had been “choked blue” by the extreme left of their own party.

Currently, the Blue Dog Coalition has banded together in opposition to the House health care reform proposal over two principal issues: first, that the bill does too little to control costs, and second, that a public plan based on Medicare rates will be too unfavorable to rural areas.  Mike_Ross_109th_pictorial

The Blue Dogs’ lead on Health Care issues is Rep. Mike Ross (D-AR), a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.  There’s a good profile of Ross on Kaiser Health News this week, which quotes our own Sip Mouden, CEO of Community Health Centers of Arkansas.

Ross and seven of his Energy and Commerce colleagues have expressed their opposition to the House bill and are currently in negotiations with Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) to see if there’s a path forward they can support.   Many Blue Dogs, like Ross, are strong supporters of health centers, so as advocates weigh in on health reform in the coming weeks and months, it’s important to remind all members, but especially those on the fence, of several points:

  • Health Centers, our patients, and our communities support the House bill, because it meets the needs of underserved people and communities.  (Read NACHC’s support letter)
  • The bill recognizes that insurance alone does not solve our nation’s health problems: it also addresses the crisis in primary care, especially in rural areas, through its solid investments in Health Centers, the National Health Service Corps, and other key programs.
  • The bill’s investments in primary care access will expand access to care, improve quality, and contain costs.

Is your member a Blue Dog?  If so, you’ll want to take his or her temperature on health reform – and let them know how important it is to health centers.