WASHINGTON -- The House's Blue Dog Democrats like to pretend they are the deficit tigers of Congress, determined to stop runaway spending and stamp out waste, fraud and abuse.
But when push came to shove, as it did in the pork-crammed $800 billion economic-stimulus bill, most of these tigers mewed like pussycats, voting in lock step with Nancy Pelosi and Barney Frank for a bill they had not read.
One by one, they inserted their voting cards into the slot in front of their seats and charged the stimulus money to the taxpayers. The first payment will be due April 15. Brace your wallets.
"Toothless tigers is one way to describe them. They are more gums than teeth when it comes to putting a bite on deficits," said Pete Sepp, spokesman for the National Taxpayers Union.
NTU's "bill tally" monitoring showed that Blue Dogs propose three-quarters less spending increases than the Democrats as a whole, but the majority of Blue Dogs still vote for most of the spending bills their party brings to the floor.
"The Blue Dogs can't say with a straight face that they have a moderate or conservative bone in their body. They're exposed as pawns of the most left-wing Democratic leadership in American history," says tax-cut crusader Grover Norquist.
There are about four-dozen Blue Dog Democrats who took their name about a dozen years ago from their Southern ancestry and who showed their party loyalty by saying they would vote for an old yellow dog before voting Republican.
At the start of the new Congress, they vowed that a "top priority will be to refocus Congress on truly balancing the budget and ridding taxpayers of the burden the national debt places on them."
In a Feb. 4 letter to Speaker Pelosi, Indiana Rep. Baron Hill and seven other Blue Dog leaders said they had "serious reservations" about the big stimulus bill then working its way through Congress.
But on final passage, only a half-dozen brave Blue Dogs voted against the bill that will, with interest, add $1 trillion-plus to the federal debt.
One of them was Democratic Rep. Walt Minnick of Idaho, who had offered a $200 billion alternative, but when it failed, he voted no on the stimulus put together by Democratic leaders and the White House.
Minnick soberly told his constituents: "We must be mindful of the legacy we leave for future generations. The consequences of this bill will be painful and possibly harsh for those tasked with the burden of paying for what has been passed today."