GOP ramps up attacks on moderate Dems for budget votes

Budget blueprint enables an increase in the government's debt ceiling -- the limit on the amount it can borrow without defaulting on its obligations.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is targeting moderate-to-conservative Blue Dog House Democrats over their votes in favor of the fiscal 2008 budget resolution last month.

Republicans are seeking to poke holes in the Blue Dogs' reputation for fiscal discipline by capitalizing on the budget blueprint's enabling of an $850 billion increase in the government's debt ceiling -- the limit on the amount it can borrow without defaulting on its obligations.

The Blue Dogs who voted for the debt limit increase, which would raise the cap to $9.8 trillion, are doubly vulnerable because they feature signs outside their office that keep a running tab of the national debt and each taxpayers' share, GOP officials argue.

The vote for the debt ceiling increase was the result of the Democratic leadership deciding to keep in place a rule Republicans utilized allowing the House to avoid a separate vote to increase the cap upon adoption of a House-Senate budget agreement. Eliminating that rule historically has been part of the Blue Dogs' budget platform.

A posting on the NRCC's blog entitled "Blue Dog Broken Promises" singles out freshman Democratic Reps. Michael Arcuri and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Tim Mahoney of Florida, as well as third-term Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin of South Dakota for "hypocrisy" in voting to increase the debt limit while sporting the debt signs outside their offices.

"The so-called Blue Dog Coalition has turned into [Speaker] Nancy Pelosi's lapdog coalition," said NRCC spokesman Ken Spain. He added it was "comical" that a number of Blue Dogs no longer have the coalition's trademark signs outside their offices, suggesting they were embarrassed to do so after the budget vote.

Blue Dog members without debt signs contacted by CongressDaily said the two events were unrelated, and they had simply forgotten to put up the signs due to other distractions.

Democrats said Republicans have no business criticizing them for fiscal profligacy, having presided over a $3 trillion debt increase over the past six years.

"This is the ultimate re-branding effort by the NRCC, to depict Republicans as fiscally responsible after years of ballooning the debt and driving up our deficit," said Doug Thornell, spokesman for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

The White House and House Republicans have been busy criticizing the fiscal 2008 budget for not attacking rising entitlement program costs, which are the biggest contributor to the debt.

Republicans proposed steep reductions in Medicare and Medicaid in the budget resolution, but Democrats ignored the proposals. "Blue Dogs go home and yell about runaway spending and then come to Washington and vote for the largest tax increase in history, countless new programs and no spending control," said Brad Dayspring, spokesman for the conservative House Republican Study Committee.

Democrats argue the budget plan allows for tax cuts to be extended, provided they are offset by spending cuts or other revenue increases.

They also said during the budget debate that entitlement overhaul should only be considered as part of a comprehensive budget agreement that puts everything on the table, spending as well as taxes.

Rep. Mike Ross, D-Ark., one of the Blue Dogs' elected leaders, said imposing controls on the budget will take time and begin with the "pay/go" rules they fought for at the beginning of the new Congress.

"We make no illusions that returning our budget process to one of fiscal responsibility will take time, and that digging ourselves out of the massive deficit ditch that is the Republican legacy will involve difficult decisions," he said.

One Blue Dog member not only still has the debt clock sign outside his office but actually added another, more ominous sign, which shows an overall debt of $50 trillion when factoring in accrued entitlement obligations the government owes to future benefit recipients.

Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., proposed significant Medicare and Medicaid reductions this year, unlike his Democratic colleagues.

He has been waging a lonely battle at the secretive Federal Accounting Standards Advisory Board to get the government's accounting standards changed to reflect the government's total federal liabilities.

Cooper said he has made little headway because of entrenched interests such as AARP, as well as lack of attention from what he calls "lazy journalists."

"We are a substance-free country," Cooper said. "If it's not a sports score it's not of any real interest."