One of Congress's most liberal members, Rep. Maxine Waters, (D-Calif.), declared on Tuesday that the White House's problems getting Blue Dog Democrats to support its health care agenda were largely its own doing -- or more specifically, the doing of its chief of staff.
Waters said many of the self-proclaimed conservative Democrats, including those who have stalled legislation on the House Energy and Commerce, were initially recruited to run for office by Rahm Emanuel back when he was head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
"The chickens have come home to roost," declared the California Democrat. "On the one hand, [the Blue Dogs] don't want to spend money but, on the other hand, they want to spend money when they think it benefits them or their districts, and so they have a powerful bloc. They're holding it up and that is as clear as can be."
In terms of a possible remedy, Waters noted that the White House's bargaining chips were limited, in part because Emanuel had given these members the green light to buck the party on select issues.
"Don't forget," she said, "[Rahm] recruited most of them, as when he was over in the Congress in the leadership. Rahm Emanuel recruited more conservative members and based on some of the information I'm getting, they told them that they could vote the way they wanted to vote, that they would not interfere with what was considered their philosophy about some of these things."
Waters's comments reflected a growing split among House Democrats over the approach to health care reform, particularly between the Congressional Black Caucus and the Blue Dogs. In a New York Times report published earlier in the week, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) made a point of noting that the seven Blue Dog Democrats in the Energy and Commerce Committee were "a nondiverse group" of white men.
"They should be more concerned about people who are dying than about their basic philosophy, which involves simply money," Johnson said. "Which is more important, money or live human beings with flesh and blood running through their veins, who cannot get health care?"
The frustration has boiled over this past week, as the House Energy and Commerce Committee is laboring long hours to craft compromise legislation before the chamber breaks for August recess. That said, Democratic operatives insist that they remain confident that the party will largely unite behind a single piece of legislation.