Over the next several months, it seems more likely than not that the Congress is going to take up some very polarizing issues, such as trying to tackle our national debt and finding ways to modernize the nation's energy strategy to power our homes, vehicles and industry.
As Congress addresses these difficult issues, it is likely that divisions within the Democratic Party will be exposed. How progressives and moderates handle these internal divisions will determine whether or not Democrats control Congress in 2011 and 2012. If tensions between the two groups boil over and each side views the other as the enemy, there is no doubt in my mind that many conservative Democrats -- known as the Blue Dogs -- will lose reelections in the House. If enough of them do, Democrats will lose control of Congress and President Obama will have a much more difficult time in the final two years of his first term.
This is why I am asking my progressive friends within the Democratic Party to act carefully until Election Day and not advance legislation that could escalate the national deficit or threaten jobs of people like coal workers and small businessmen. If conservative Democrats are forced to take difficult votes and upset their constituents, they could lose their reelections or just retire altogether, which is already happening at an alarming rate.
Everyone should also keep in mind that if these conservative Democrats lose, they won't be replaced by moderate Republicans. They will be replaced by extremely conservative Republicans who appeal to the Tea Party movement. These Republicans will have campaigned on overturning health care, the stimulus and environmental regulations, and doing so will be at the top of their agendas on Capitol Hill.
Until Election Day, conservative and progressive Democrats may not agree on everything, but they need to cooperate with each other. Conservatives need progressives who lead our party to advance moderate policies that they can support. Progressives need moderates, because if dozens of Blue Dogs lose in November, the most influential progressives -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman -- will be relegated to Minority Leader and Ranking Member, respectively, in the next Congress.
During the heated health care debate, I was greatly concerned when I heard that progressives in the Democratic Party say they were willing to sacrifice a few Blue Dogs to get the healthcare legislation passed. Their thinking was: lose a few conservatives, but get guaranteed healthcare for the entire nation. But it doesn't work that way. If an issue is so decisive that it threatens one Blue Dog, it threatens them all.
What makes the Democratic Party strong is that we have a big tent. We welcome people from different backgrounds and upbringings into our party. I hope everyone will keep this in mind and that next Congress, we can still call my friend Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi "Madam Speaker."
Shows was a member of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition when he served in Congress.
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