Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bad Votes

Excellent posts today by Steve Benen and Matt Yglesias, pointing out that Republican Senators coming out against stripping Planned Parenthood of funding do so only after having voted the other way -- by supporting the House-passed FY11 CR -- only recently.

It sure seems to me that Senate Republicans seriously misplayed their hand when they chose to almost unanimously support the House bill (all but DeMint, Lee, and Paul voted for it).

By getting 44 votes for H.R. 1, Republicans won bragging rights, since the Democrats only managed 42 votes for their substitute. Republicans made a fair amount of hay for a few days, but I can't see what it got them. It's not going to affect the spin war once shutdown gets here, and it's hard to see how it affects the real bargaining over appropriations, once that starts.

On an individual basis, presumably moderates including Brown, Collins, and Murkowski were more concerned about primary challenges than about general election voters. That's reasonable. Single votes on the Senate or House floor only rarely have been shown to affect general election voting (which is mainly driven by party, of course). It's very plausible, however, to imagine a single vote sparking a Tea Party or other conservative primary challenge.

However, by flipping (as the three of them have done) on Planned Parenthood, and presumably on other individual riders attached to the bill, it sure seems to me that they're getting the worst of both worlds.

It's hard to believe that the vote on the House CR is going to be enough to shield GOP moderates from a challenge if they then come out against various provisions of that bill (provisions which, too the dismay of movement conservative activists, won't be enacted into law despite the Great Tea Party Landslide of 2010).  At the same time...look, we can show that individual votes normally don't affect general election results, but usually the votes to examine are more or less consistent with the candidate's promises. Here, we have candidates who ran as moderates on abortion, the environment, and other issues casting votes for extreme measures in the opposite direction. I'm open to evidence to the contrary, but I don't think we really have very much evidence on the results of such votes.

Not that I'm saying that Collins will lose in four years, much less Murkowski in six years, based on this vote. Still, while normally I'd be willing to say that GOP Members of Congress right now are correct to be more worried about the effects of single votes on renomination, I can't really say with confidence that votes such as this one will really be harmless in November.

The oddity is that normally parties work hard to shield legislators from such choices. I don't really understand why Brown, Collins, Murkowski and others voted for this one (and why the party wanted them to); they easily could have found Tea Party-friendly reasons to oppose it while also, perhaps more quietly, noted that they disagreed with the various policy riders. For that matter, they could have -- should have, I'd say -- come out against many of the individual spending cuts in the bill while simultaneously complaining that the bill didn't cut enough overall. That's a safe position to take into either a primary or a general election, next year or far down the line.

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