Reservoir Dogs

The House just went into recess as Speaker Pelosi continues to count noses. At 3:45 p.m., Democrats will hold a closed caucus meeting. Until then, here’s my take on the Blue Dogs as the tax vote nears:

Blue Dog Democrats hobble toward the tax vote defanged. While they were once loyal guardians against liberal excess on Capitol Hill, their ranks will soon have been culled by the midterms — about half of them, 26 of 54, were defeated last month. But before many scamper off and those remaining fade into the background of a more left-wing Democratic conference, a final bark of defiance against the Pelosi regime is in order.

All around them, House liberals are throwing fits about the Obama-McConnell tax deal. These finger-wagging Democrats wail about the agreement’s estate-tax provision — which allows the tax to rise from zero to 35 percent with an exemption of $5 million, instead of to 55 percent with an exemption of $1 million as it is scheduled to do at the end of the year — and the scope of its tax-rate extensions. For Blue Dogs, the scene is a rerun. As the health-care and spending fights demonstrated, when the spotlight swerves onto the lower chamber, progressives hog it. And usually, they keep it — shaping the narrative on the floor and on the airwaves.

But at this late hour, most Blue Dogs are sick of the theatrics. With tax hikes looming, and unemployment pushing 10 percent, extending Bush-era tax rates is not only solid, middle-of-the-road politics, but necessary. In a letter sent to Pelosi earlier this week, 31 members of the caucus urged the speaker to “send the bill to the president’s desk,” as is, “without delay.” It is time, they wrote, to “put aside the partisan talking points and accomplish what the American people sent us here to do.”

The Blue Dogs’ pronouncement carries weight as the clock ticks. With conservative GOP congressmen such as Jason Chaffetz of Utah rallying against the compromise alongside the fight-on liberals, the president and deal-friendly Republicans need blocs of Democrats to achieve a majority vote. The addition of a pack of Blue Dogs to the cadre of centrist Democrats and old bulls in favor of the deal will make passage likely.

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Robert Costa — Robert Costa is National Review's Washington editor and a CNBC political analyst. He manages NR's Capitol Hill bureau and covers the White House, Congress, and national campaigns. ...

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