Analysis or news about votes taken on the floor of the House.

Two Significant Votes

The House passed a veto override yesterday, reversing President Bush's veto of the Water Resources Development Act.  Randy Kuhl voted for the override. As the first reversal in Bush's presidency, this is clearly important, but it was also predictable, since the original vote was an overwhelming a veto-proof majority.  Nevertheless, roughly 25 Republicans who had supported the original bill switched their vote and voted against reversing the veto.

The House also voted to refer Articles of Impeachment against Vice-President Cheney to the Judiciary Committee.  It was pretty much a party-line vote, with the exception of Ron Paul and a couple of other anti-war Republicans voting for, and a couple of "Blue Dog" Democrats voting against.

As usual, these votes and others of interest can be tracked by following the Significant Votes link at the upper right of this page.

S-CHIP Non-Compromise

A slightly altered version of the S-CHIP passed the House this afternoon with exactly the same number of yes votes as the original S-CHIP legislation.  Randy Kuhl voted against the bill. 

I haven't studied the changes in the bill closely, but they don't sound like the product of a compromise, judging from this National Journal article.   A recent Kuhl blog post echoes the complaints of his leadership:  the vote was held without enough advance notice, and without California members who were back in their districts because of the recent fires.

It sounds like the House Democrats are taking some advice from Senator Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican who supported S-CHIP in the House:

Grassley has suggested that, were he a Democrat, he would send the SCHIP measure to Bush repeatedly until the president agreed to sign it.
From the media reports, it sounds like both sides in this debate have wedged themselves into intractable positions.  Republicans like Kuhl have taken a big hit for their opposition to S-CHIP, and they've responded with a lot of red-hot rhetoric about the bill.  They need some tangible changes in the bill to justify changing their votes.  Democrats see how well S-CHIP polls, and are under fire from their constituents for their failure to end the war in Iraq.  With 43 Republicans on their side, they've chosen S-CHIP as a bi-partisan effort to get a few more Republicans accustomed to voting against their party.   This is a recipe for stalemate, and it looks like we're going there sooner, rather than later.

And, by the way, both MoveOn and AFSCME are launching still more ads in the district to publicize Kuhl's  vote.

S-CHIP Override Fails

Randy Kuhl voted against the S-CHIP veto override this afternoon, and the override failed on a vote of 273-156.  Despite all the lobbying, the main change in the vote was the movement of a few Democrats who decided to oppose the veto.  S-CHIP passed the House earlier by a 265-159 vote.

The House Finishes Up

The House finally adjourned for its August recess this morning a little after 1 A.M. During the last 14-hour session, Randy Kuhl voted against the Energy Bill as well as against a bill that would have extended and increased tax incentives for the use of renewable energy. Both of those bills passed the House.

Kuhl voted for an extension of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which included a 6-month sunset provision. This bill was passed after the House failed to pass a bill less to the Bush Administration's liking on Friday. Kuhl voted against that bill. The AP has a pretty good story about the new FISA provisions.

Finally Kuhl, and almost everyone else in the House, voted for the Defense appropriation, which includes $6 million in his earmarks.

Voting Round Up

The House was scheduled to adjourn yesterday for the August recess, but a dust-up on the House floor Thursday night, among other delays, has the House at work today.

Randy Kuhl has been "Mr. No" for the past week. Kuhl did not support any of the major appropriation legislation that reached the floor this week, which included:

  • Increases in funding for the Children's Health and Medicare Protection Act This bill would have added $30 billion in funding to add 3 million more children to the S-CHIP program, which is a joint state-federal plan to insure children whose parents have incomes above the poverty line. The bill is funded in part by an increase in the tax on tobacco.
  • The appropriation bill for the Department of Agriculture, FDA and related agencies. Kuhl voted "present" on this bill, since it was part of the dispute mentioned above. Most Republicans were absent for the vote. Even though Kuhl serves on the Agriculture committee, he had no earmarks in the bill.

Both appropriation bills passed the House, though the S-CHIP authorization is under veto threat from the President. Kuhl also voted against two other national-security related bills. The first was a bill mandating that active duty, guard and reserve troops will have a home rotation equal to the amount of time they are on duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. The final bill that Kuhl opposed this week was the reauthorization of the FISA surveillance program. That bill failed by a few votes.

This Week in Votes and Earmarks

Randy Kuhl voted for the Farm Bill, which included a significant increase in funding for specialty crops. McClatchy has a good Q&A on the bill here. The bill contained no earmarks.

Kuhl voted against the HUD and Transportation appropriation bill, H R 3074. That bill included four of his earmarks, worth more than $600,000.

Update: Missed one: Kuhl also had an $800K earmark for Alfred State in the Commerce, Justice and Science appropriation, H R 3093, which he voted against.

Kuhl's Contradictory Votes Make the Paper

Today's Elmira Star-Gazette carries a story about Randy Kuhl's recent votes against major appropriation bills. As mentioned here last month, Kuhl voted against two appropriation bills that included earmarks he sponsored. Even though he voted against the bills, he still touted the earmarks on his website.

Kuhl's explanation for this apparent contradiction contains some topsy-turvy logic:

"The point is the bills passed, so why shouldn't I tell people about the local projects that were in them?" Kuhl said. "They wouldn't have been in there if I hadn't requested them."

Kuhl said he didn't vote for the bills -- with the exception of one that increased spending for veterans and military members -- because he thinks the Democratic majority is increasing spending too much.

As the article points out, Kuhl is clearly trying to have it both ways by saying that only his pork is worthy. One theory, offered by University of Rochester Professor Gerald Gamm, is that Kuhl will get away with this because "constituents are not paying attention to all the details". That may be true, but I think Kuhl will have a second explanation available later this year, after the Senate amends the spending bills.

Kuhl's vote against H R 2669, the College Cost Reduction Act, is another example of a vote against a popular bill. This bill was opposed by a majority of Republicans, for a variety of reasons. Like last month's vote against the Homeland Security bill, voting against an increase in funding for financial aid financed on the back of banks seems like a stone loser for Kuhl. However, like the other appropriations bills Kuhl opposed, this bill has yet to pass through the gauntlet of the Senate.

In the Senate, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has been making heavy use of cloture rules and the party loyalty of his fellow Republicans to control the agenda of the Senate. The ability of Republicans to block debate on bills is a powerful lever that the Republicans will use to force compromises on the appropriations bills passed by the House. After those bills have been amended, they will go back to the House for a vote. I'll wager that they'll get Kuhl's support the second time around.

The combination of Bush's veto threats, the loyalty of Republicans like Randy Kuhl in the House, and the lack of a 60-vote Democratic majority in the Senate is one that allows the Republicans to exert significant control over the legislative process. When Kuhl is challenged by the press or his opponent to explain his initial no votes, he'll point to changes in the bills to show that his no vote led to a more fiscally responsible bill.

Whether that's true will, indeed, require exceedingly close attention to the details.

Update: The same story made the July 16 issue of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

Kuhl Votes No on Iraq Withdrawal

Randy Kuhl voted against the Responsible Redeployment from Iraq Act, which passed the House this evening. Kuhl told the Buffalo News that he is waiting for General David Petraeus' report in September before deciding whether to change his position on Iraq.

Racking Up the No Votes

Randy Kuhl has voted against the major appropriations bills that have come before Congress in the last two weeks. This week's no votes on the Interior and Environment and Financial Services and General Government bills are interesting because each was accompanied by a press release (here and here) touting Kuhl-sponsored earmarks in those bills.

Kuhl has not explained his votes against these or any other appropriations bills. None of the appropriations bills have passed with veto-proof majorities. Most of the bills passed are under veto threat from the White House. Kuhl's vote with his party helps to give those veto threats some credibility, which in turn gives Senate Republicans leverage to remove or reduce appropriations that aren't in line with the Republican agenda.

If Kuhl votes for the final, compromise version of the bill, he can have it both ways: He can claim that he ultimately voted for the appropriation (and his earmarks), even though he initially opposed the bill.

Act 1 is Over

Randy Kuhl voted for the version of the Iraq appropriation which contained only non-binding benchmarks [pdf]. Though this bill is being portrayed as a "loss" for the Democrats, I'm not convinced that it was a great victory or defeat for anyone. Instead, it was the first act in a drama, and the stage is set for a very interesting September for Randy Kuhl and other Congressional Republicans.

My analysis of this vote and the state of debate starts with a simple proposition: George Bush has no intention of ending the war in Iraq during his term as President. I don't think that's too controversial, and if you accept it, the corollary is that the interests of Bush and the interests of his party begin to diverge toward the end of 2007. At that point, Bush will be more concerned about his legacy, and his party will be more concerned about the next election.

If you accept the premise that Bush will find whatever excuse he needs to keep troops in Iraq, and the notion that this position isn't in the best interests of the Republican party, then the most recent historical political parallel for the way that Congress and the President will interact isn't Vietnam -- it's Watergate*. During the Watergate crisis, Nixon was able to stay in office as long as he had the support of his party. Even though Democrats had been calling for his removal for years, his resignation was precipitated by quiet words from respected Republican leaders like Barry Goldwater. Similarly, Bush will only begin compromising on Iraq when he gets the word from key Republicans that the votes aren't there to sustain the war.

So, instead of looking to Democrats to somehow leverage their tiny majority into a veto-proof winning bill, we should be looking for fault lines within the Republican caucus. Viewed from that perspective, the Democrats' loss in yesterday's vote was their inability to craft a bill that would find a split between absolute Bush loyalists and more centrist Republicans. Part of that failure was due to timing: Republicans can wait until Fall to see how Iraq is doing before getting serious about their future. But part of it was probably due to mediocre leadership and the desire of the Democrats to get troops funded before Memorial Day.

Even though the Democrats were unable to find a crack in the first act of the war-ending drama, the fault line is there. Jim Walsh (NY-25) will be one of the first Republicans to crack. I think Randy Kuhl is made of sterner stuff, but I will be surprised if he isn't one of the Republicans who ultimately votes for a bi-partisan bill that will end the war.


* I'm not drawing a parallel between the corruption of the Nixon administration and the Bush presidency. My point is solely about the politics of how party members in Congress turn against their president.

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