Blue Dog Democrats Use Health Care Overhaul as Campaign Punching Bag

When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi let 30 Blue Dog Democrats break ranks to vote against the controversial health care overhaul in March, she probably didn't expect them to go the extra mile and campaign against it in the fall.

But for several of these fiscal conservatives, the bills they didn't vote for have become far more important to their campaign message than the legislation they supported.

Members of the so-called Blue Dog Coalition are railing against the health care bill, and other Democrat-sponsored spending packages, in a bid to highlight their independence from the Washington establishment. In a year when spending is a top voter concern and incumbency can translate to liability, Democrats in moderate-to-conservative districts are using their ads, websites and public appearances to condemn their party's marquee legislative achievement in the closing weeks of the campaign.

"The majority of the American people are against it. I believe that our nation can't afford it. And I didn't vote for it," Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., told Fox News in reference to the health care bill.
Taylor last week went further than any of his Democratic colleagues in speaking out against the law. He joined dozens of congressional Republicans in calling for a repeal of the package, the first Democrat to do so.

These lawmakers surely have seen the polls that show voters persistently skeptical about the health care law benefits. Though the policy's biggest provisions won't take effect until 2014, studies that show health care spending will not decline as a result of the overhaul have fueled criticism; supporters tout the bill's impact in expanding coverage to millions, rather than its effect on cost.

President Obama was celebrating on Wednesday six months since the bill's passage. Some of the law's provisions go into effect on Thursday, including one that requires insurers to pay the full cost of recommended preventive services.

Several other Blue Dogs are citing their votes against the health care legislation, as well as votes against the Wall Street bailout, in their campaign ads from the final leg.

Rep. Jason Altmire, D-Pa., released back-to-back ads highlighting his health care opposition -- and resistance to the powers that be in the Democratic Party.

"Too many people in Congress just vote the party line, but Jason Altmire, he's not like that," the first ad says. "You saw when he voted against health care and when Jason opposed the Wall Street bailouts. I like that Jason Altmire's not afraid to stand up to the president - and Nancy Pelosi."

The second ad featured Altmire talking to supposed constituents on the sidelines of a school football game, admitting that Washington isn't "happy with me" over his votes against the bailout and health care package.

Not all of these Blue Dogs are facing tough reelection challenges. Altmire is favored and Taylor is considered safe in November.

But others are drawing attention to their health care law opposition as they face down stiff competition in November.

Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin, D-S.D., released a similar ad over the summer. She's facing a challenge from state Rep. Kristi Noem, who's also railing against Washington spending in her campaign, and the race is considered a toss-up.

Rep. Glenn Nye, D-Va., released a new ad this month titled "Independence" declaring that he voted against the health care bill because it was "too expensive." He's facing GOP businessman Scott Rigell two months from now in another too-close-to-call contest.

Blue Dog Rep. Bobby Bright, D-Ala., also released an ad under the same name claiming the independence title.

"Bobby Bright is the most independent member of Congress," the narrator said. "Bobby voted against the bailouts, against stimulus spending, against the massive government health care."

He's facing Montgomery Councilwoman Martha Roby, who has criticized Bright for his votes in favor of other Democratic spending packages. And the Roby campaign is criticizing Bright for not going far enough in his opposition to the health care law.

"In his latest television ad Bobby Bright touts his vote against health care, but what he doesn't tell the voters is that he still refuses to support repealing or defunding the job-killing bill," the campaign said in a statement.