The Sixth District Blue Dog

The Top Story by Chris Graham
freepress2@ntelos.net

I was introducing Sam Rasoul to a member of the Wayne Theatre Alliance board of directors a few months ago when I saw political hari-kari committed right before my very eyes.

The Wayne representative was talking about how hard it would be for him to vote against Bob Goodlatte considering Goodlatte’s efforts to help the Alliance get a $300,000 appropriations earmark passed through Congress earlier this year when Rasoul interrupted to note his strong philosophical opposition to congressional earmarks. I took him aside a few minutes later to try to explain to him the political ramifications of what he’d just said, but he was nonplussed.

“We’re not going to be able to do anything with our out-of-control federal spending until we do something about those earmarks,” Rasoul corrected me, and left an impression in the process.

It might be politically expedient to say that one doesn’t like earmarks, on the one hand, and then on the other make grabs for money for your home district, a political tightrope that Goodlatte has chosen to walk, and has done well, winning not only the $300,000 for the Wayne Theatre, but also close to a half-million dollars more for community projects in Lynchburg and Roanoke. Isn’t it funny, in that light, that it’s the supposed tax-and-spend liberal Democrat in the Sixth District race that is the one selling us on the notion that we need to restore fiscal discipline to the halls of Congress?

“Being a small-business owner, and understanding the basic premise that government should have a balanced checkbook, that’s pretty important to me. I believe like other Mark Warner-style Democrats that understand that government has a role, and we want it to play that role in an efficient manner, but also we know that we’ve got to be fiscally responsible about things,” said Rasoul, who signaled his intention to join a coalition of fiscal-conservative Democratic fellow travelers if elected in November to Augusta County blogger Riley Murray in an interview earlier this month.

“Balancing the budget is a matter of national security. We are undermining our economy by continuing with this deficit spending. That is why when I get elected to Congress I will be pushing to caucus with the Blue Dog Democrats,” Rasoul confirmed to me last week.

I’m not what you’d call unfamiliar with the concept of Blue Dog Democracy. The Augusta Free Press was for years the home to the Valley Blue Dog, Steven Sisson, a fiscal-conservative Democrat who ran for the 24th District State Senate seat held by moderate-conservative Republican Emmett Hanger in 2003. I called Sisson to get his take on Rasoul, more to the point, to try to get an idea as to whether Sisson is judging Rasoul’s verbal commitment to the Blue Dogs to be authentic.

“I’m delighted Democrat Sam Rasoul will join the Congressional Blue Dog Coalition once elected. Promoting fiscal conservatism and accountability and reform in government has this Blue Dog running in circles and wagging his tail about candidate Sam Rasoul,” Sisson wrote to me in an e-mail.

Sisson met Rasoul earlier this year and walked away impressed with the nominee’s ideas for government reform, health care and energy policy. “I’ve decided it’s time for a change. I’m voting for Sam,” Sisson wrote. “Honestly, President George Bush and his GOP congressional leadership should be receiving a ‘Go To Jail’ card for bankrupting our nation’s economy and the resulting higher food and fuel cost, which is sending all of us to the poorhouse.”

The blogger Murray is another fiscal-conservative Dem who has Rasoul’s back on budget matters. “Rep. Goodlatte talks a lot about conservative tax policy. But it’s really a mixed bag with him. If you look at the truly conservative people in the district, they’re seeing a problem with the amount of deficit spending and the national debt. I think there’s some vulnerability there as far as what Rep. Goodlatte is saying,” Murray told me.

In defense of Goodlatte, I’ll say here that I can see some wisdom to his approach to at the same time work to put to death the earmarks process that adds untold billions to our annual deficit and national debt and work to bring some of the largesse back home to the district so that the Sixth doesn’t miss out on getting its fair share, or its unfair share, depending on your perspective. But you can see me hedging there, can’t you? And it’s because we’re never going to get ourselves out of the fiscal hole that is federal overspending if we continue to grab, grab, grab even as we try to bring about the necessary budget reforms.

“This is fundamental to my campaign and fundamental to my principles as a fiscal conservative,” said Rasoul of his commitment to Blue Dog Democratic principles. “There is a healthy middle in politics where we can find a way for government to work efficiently and at the same time balance our budgets. This has been something where I have believed that our current administration has done some long-term harm to our country by doubling our debt,” Rasoul said.

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