July 25, 2009 — -- Rep. Mike Ross's phone won't stop ringing.
Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh has fans calling to thank the Democrat for stalling health care reform. Angry liberals -- some prompted by MSNBC's Ed Schultz -- call to berate him for the same reason.
So how did an Arkansas pharmacy owner become a major power broker? He's a member of a rare breed -- a "Blue Dog" Democrat.
"We're a group of conservative, common-sense Democrats that feel like we have been choked blue by the extremes of both parties," Ross, D-Ark., chairman of the Blue Dog Coalition's Health Care Task Force, told ABC News.
President Obama knew he'd have trouble with Republicans when it came to approving his health care reform plan. But it is the 52 Blue Dog Democrats -- led by Ross -- who now threaten to block his health care reform plan. Their main objection is its $1.75 trillion-dollar price tag.
"There are some within our party that think that we're not real Democrats or that we're obstructionists. Nothing could be further from the truth," Ross said. "I would say to them that President Obama, as recently as Tuesday, said the Blue Dog Coalition -- a group of conservative Democrats -- are in fact rightfully raising issues about the current house health care reform bill not going far enough at containing health care costs."
Republicans have earned a reputation for discipline. Democrats, on the other hand, are considered more fractious. Will Rogers once quipped, "I'm not a member of any organized political party. I'm a Democrat."
The Blue Dogs represent fiscally conservative, largely southern voters concerned over the plan's cost and over a proposal for an optional public health care plan, among other things.
"It's a huge amount of pressure to have the national media focused on you and to have the White House focused on you, not to mention leaders of your own House of Representatives," ABC News political analyst Cokie Roberts said. "But everybody knows the rule. You get your re-election settled first. Then you worry about party discipline."
The Blue Dogs have been summoned to the White House and urged to get on board. They've been summoned for negotiations by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., and stormed out in anger.
Now, Democratic-leaning groups are running ads against them. A spot by Health Care for America Now (HCAN) and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union says, "Tell Congressman Ross support reform now. It's your health. It should be your choice."
In his weekly radio address, released today, the president used his bully pulpit to say Americans can't afford to wait.
"Now, I know there are those who are urging us to delay reform. And some of them have actually admitted that this is a tactic designed to stop any reform at all," the president said. "I'm concerned about our children and grandchildren who will be saddled with deficits that will continue piling up year after year unless we pass reform."
That message may be aimed as much at Blue Dog Democrats as at Republicans.