Four Dems Give Unnecessary Cover to Weak GOPers
by Jonathan Singer, Sun May 07, 2006 at 05:30:15 PM EDT
Before bringing up their own lackluster lobbying reform effort earlier this week, the Republican majority in the House allowed a roll call vote on a motion to recommit on a much more robust piece of legislation penned by the Democrats, essentially giving the chamber one last chance to choose between the two proposals. As The Washington Posteditorial board explained on Friday, it appeared as though the Democratic bill might actually have a chance of passing until the waning moments of the vote when defeat was snatched out of hands of victory.
THERE WAS an amazing, albeit brief, moment on the House floor Wednesday when it looked as if good government might trump party loyalty. As a prelude to the ultimate vote on the sham measure that Republicans were parading as lobbying reform, lawmakers were voting on a "motion to recommit with instructions," parliamentary-speak for supporting real change in the form of an alternative Democratic bill. Sixteen brave Republicans broke with their party to support true reform -- the most GOP votes in favor of such a Democratic motion during the entire 109th Congress.
It would have been enough, too -- except that four Democrats broke ranks the other way to oppose their party's motion and doom any chance of passing an effective bill. The Feckless Four are Reps. Rick Boucher (Va.), Michael E. Capuano (Mass.), John P. Murtha (Pa.) and Martin O. Sabo (Minn.). With their votes against, the motion lost 216 to 213. In an e-mail, Mr. Sabo told us that the proposed changes "have the potential to do more harm than good in conducting the people's business in Congress." A spokesman for Mr. Capuano said he "felt in the final analysis that neither bill really got to what he sees as the root of the problem" -- flaws in the campaign finance system. Yes, the campaign finance system needs overhaul, but this is like saying it makes no sense to patch a hole in your roof because the entire house should be renovated. The other two did not respond to queries.
I appreciate that there were principles behind the votes of Boucher, Capuano, Murtha and Sabo, that in their minds there was a great reason behind voting no on the roll call vote. But by abandoning their party at such a key juncture they gave sixteen Republicans an unbelievable gift.
Most of those sixteen GOP Representatives -- Charlie Bass (NH), Jeb Bradley (NH), Michael Castle (DE), Steve Chabot (OH), Michael Fitzpatrick (PA), Jim Gerlach (PA), Mark Green (WI), Nancy Johnson (CT), Walter Jones (NC), Jim Leach (IA), Frank LoBiondo (NJ), Todd Platts (PA), Jim Ramstad (MN), Chris Shays (CT), Rob Simmons (CT) and Heather Wilson (NM) -- come from districts that are marginally Republican, at best, and many of them face very tough challenges from the Democrats this year. Were any of them forced to vote against the real lobbying reform proposal forwarded by the Democratic Party as a result of intense pressure from their own party leadership (the GOP almost always seems able to whip together the necessary votes for victory one way or another), surely they would have been hampered by the press, who seem to be in favor of reform, and hit by campaign ads highlighting their unwillingness to clean up Washington.
But these 16 Republican Congressmen did not have to make the tough choice between defending their party and defending themselves. Why? Because four Democratic Congressmen didn't make them. They just gave them a free pass to vote for a popular proposal that didn't have the votes to be enacted -- and thus wouldn't damage the GOP as a whole.
If the Democrats are really serious about taking back control of the House of Representatives, this kind of action just can't happen again. True, the Democrats' party unity has been on the rise as of yet, and the Democrats more strongly opposed the Republicans than almost any other point in recent years. Nevertheless, it's not good enough to keep losing close votes that could be won -- or at least giving up three or four votes, thus enabling three or four more endangered Republicans to defect, allowing these Reps. to send out press releases praising their own magnanimity and "bipartisanship" while the GOP measure still passes.
Simply put, this path ain't gonna cut it for the Democrats, so it's high time that they get their act together and vote wit complete unanimity on key parliamentary votes such as the one on lobbying reform.