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

Kuhl and Gitmo

According to a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) press release, I should be upset with Randy Kuhl for not immediately denouncing President Bush's threatened veto of H R 1585, the 2008 Defense Appropriation. The DCCC claims that Bush wants to veto the bill because the increases in troop pay and survivor benefits are too high. If you want to go down that rathole with the DCCC and Rep. Kuhl, this story will take you there.

I'd rather not engage in a silly debate, so I'm ready to stipulate that both Kuhl and the DCCC are 100% grade-A all-American troop supporters of the first rank -- but only if they promise to stop arguing about who "supports the troops". Kuhl's constant repetition of that phrase is a poor substitute for a real defense of his continued support of the Iraq war. The DCCC's usage is worse, because it is textbook case of letting the other side frame the debate by using their language. The DCCC is apparently unwilling to challenge Republicans on the substance of Iraq, so instead it focuses on whether we should raise soldiers' pay 3% or 3.5%.

Both sides are doing the public a disservice. While they're slinging platitudes and arguing over minutae, they fail to address the real issues in the war on terror. One of those issues, Guantánamo, is finally being addressed in H R 1585, no thanks to Randy Kuhl.

The House version of the 2008 defense appropriation included an amendment [pdf] asking the Department of Defense to identify and transfer all prisoners from Guantánamo Bay by the end of the year. Randy Kuhl voted for H R 1585, but against the amendment, which ended up in the bill anyway.

The plain fact, as documented by the UN [pdf], is that the US has used Guantánamo Bay as a way to circumvent the Geneva Convention, to torture inmates, and to delay the release of some prisoners who are probably innocent of all charges against them. Gitmo will go down in history with other US overreactions in times of war, and it needs to be cleaned up.

I think that last paragraph is completely uncontroversial, but unfortunately a lot of pundits and politicians continue to defend Guantánamo. I would ask anyone who agrees with those opinion makers to imagine what they would call a place like Guantánamo if it were located in Castro's Cuba instead of on our base there. What would we call a facility in a communist country where people can be held indefinitely without trial, threatened with dogs, and made to endure sleep deprivation and other forms of "soft" torture? I don't think "gulag" is a hysterical term for such a place.

A strong country dedicated to a long fight against Islamic fundamentalist extremism does not need Guantánamo Bay. We are smart and tough enough to treat prisoners humanely while we fight a war. To do anything less is profoundly un-American, since it denies the principles upon which our country was founded.

Many Democrats and most Republicans have been afraid to challenge the administration on its handling of prisoners because they are afraid of the same kind of demagoguery that is behind "support the troops". That's why, years after Guantánamo should have been shuttered, only four Republicans voted for closing Gitmo, and 15 conservative Democrats voted against.

If the DCCC were interested in real issues, they might have highlighted Kuhl's vote against the Guantánamo amendment. If Kuhl really wanted to do something to "support the troops", he could have voted with a few of his colleagues to close Gitmo. Instead, we get inane press releases from both sides.


Yesterday was an interesting day in the House. The Republicans called for hours of procedural votes, most of which were supported by Randy Kuhl. According to Congressional Quarterly, the reason for the delays was concern on the part of Republicans that Democrats would restrict amendments in the coming debate on the Budget.

Kuhl's support of these procedural votes is consistent with his general voting pattern, which mirrors that of most Republicans. When a major bill is up for consideration, the Republicans usually offer a few amendments and then move to send the bill back to committee. That last motion fails on a party-line vote, and then the bill passes, often with bi-partisan support. The vote for H R 1257 is a good example of this pattern.

My statistics show that Kuhl votes with the majority in about 60% of tight votes on important legislation. There's a hard core of 30-40 Republicans who oppose most important bills, but Kuhl is generally not among that group.

So far this session, Kuhl's voting record, like almost every other Republican, is that of a party loyalist on procedural votes. On other votes, he generally supports most legislation that doesn't hit a hot button like Iraq, stem cells, or the rights of corporations. He's a moderate-to-conservative Republican, pretty much as advertised.

Iraq Round-Up

As expected, Randy Kuhl voted against redeployment from Iraq, and against the short-term emergency supplemental yesterday.

In related news, Maj Gen (Ret) John Batiste was fired from his job as a CBS commentator over his recent ad for His day job at Klein Steel is probably still safe, since his boss Joe Klein is no stranger to controversy.

Kuhl Votes For Anti-Hate Crime Bill

This afternoon, Randy Kuhl voted for H R 1592, an anti-Hate Crime bill which he cosponsored. The White House has vowed to veto this bill on the grounds that the bill federalizes and duplicates existing state and local laws. There's also a subtext: some far-right groups oppose this bill on the grounds that it adds homosexuals to the list of those who might be the victims of hate crimes. Kuhl was one of only 25 Republicans to vote for the bill.

Kuhl Votes Against Override

The least surprising event of the day was Randy Kuhl's predictable vote against an override of the President's veto of the Iraq Emergency Supplemental.

A bookkeeping note for those of you following the significant votes page: I only count the supplemental as one vote. If I tracked every vote for every issue, the percentage derived on that page wouldn't make much sense.

Extending the Clean Water Act

Amidst the votes dealing with weighty topics like "Dutch American Friendship Day" and "International Women's Day", I missed the vote for H R 720 last week. This act amends the Clean Water Act to add funding for study grants, community sewage projects and the like. Randy Kuhl voted against the majority of his party in support of this bill, and that makes it a significant vote.

Kuhl and Labor: No Love

H R 800 allows a workplace to become unionized without an election if a majority of workers sign up for the union. Though Randy Kuhl was initially one of the co-sponsors of this bill in the previous Congress, he withdrew his support six days after the election, sending a clear message to unions who endorsed his opponent. Today, Kuhl amplified that message by voting against the bill.

Kuhl was one of the few Republicans from the region who voted against this bill. The list of the thirteen GOP members who joined with the Democratic majority reads like a Whos-Who of vulnerable Northeast Republicans.

This vote probably indicates that Kuhl has given up hope of winning over labor during this election cycle. The 2006 campaign demonstrated that labor will support a credible Democratic opponent despite Kuhl's generally labor-friendly record. Since Kuhl has nothing to gain by courting labor, and much of his base is hostile to unions, he chose to buck the trend among his regional colleagues and vote against the bill.

Kuhl Explains His Vote

Randy Kuhl was one of four New York Representatives who chose not to participate in the debate over the resolution on Iraq. After the vote, Kuhl issued a statement explaining his vote. In the statement, he expresses strong support for the deployment of new troops in Baghdad, calling it "the best possible blueprint for victory".

In addition to endorsing the surge, Kuhl argues that a precipitous withdrawal from Iraq would lead to a disaster, and he also accuses the Democrats of using the Iraq resolution as a first step towards defunding the troops.

I don't think any deep analysis of Kuhl's position is necessary to see what's going on here. Kuhl has not changed his mind about Iraq, and he continues to cast his lot with that of his party and President. There is no shading or nuance that might indicate a reservation about his continued support of the Bush administration's Iraq policy.

Kuhl's hard line is apparent in his accusation that the "Democrat party" intends to "defund the troops, and deny them the best protection and back up available". That accusation is silly. No Member of Congress would propose or vote for such a measure, yet this is the main talking point of the Republican leadership of the House. As I noted earlier, the current Murtha proposal puts conditions on funding which would allow longer rest periods between deployments, and it also insists on proper equipment and training before troops are deployed. That's the polar opposite of denying protection and backup.

Kuhl's continued close alliance with the Bush administration -- including repetition of the rhetoric ("Democrat party") -- is interesting given that his 2006 race was a squeaker. Yet Kuhl isn't the only Republican in a tight district who's chosen to continue to toe the administration line. Of the 16 Republican Representatives who held their seats by 3 percent or less, only James Walsh (NY-25) voted against his party. This shows that the electoral calculus on the Iraq isn't as clear as some might think.

Though polls show that roughly two-thirds of Americans think the war was a mistake, that Bush has mishandled it, and that we shouldn't send more troops, the same two-thirds oppose funding cuts by Congress. This disconnect reflects something deep in the American character -- the thing we hate most about losing is the concrete acknowledgment of our failure. Our exit from Vietnam, which was a painful inching away instead of a clean break, reflects this tendency. Cutting funding for the Iraq war would be a clear, public and unmistakable acceptance of failure, and a large majority of the electorate is not yet ready to do that.

In the next few months, we'll see Democrats trying to grasp the nettle of our loss in Iraq. They'll do so in increments, introducing legislation like Murtha's that approach a withdrawal indirectly. During this time, Republicans will weigh each vote very carefully. They must appease a base that still wants a "victory", yet they can't appear to be out of touch with the majority of their constituents who disapprove of the war.

At some point in this intricate political dance, a few more Republicans will back away from supporting the Bush administration. Despite his unequivocal statement today, I wouldn't be surprised to see Kuhl change his mind before this legislative drama is over.

Kuhl Votes No

Randy Kuhl voted "no" on H CON RES 63, the Iraq resolution. Only 17 Republicans voted for the resolution, which is much less than the 30-60 that was being predicted earlier.

I'm away from C-SPAN, but to my knowledge, Kuhl did not speak on the floor before voting - I'll check the record tomorrow to be sure, and post some analysis then.

Hat tip to Rochesterturning, who got to this first.

An Interesting Insignificant Vote

One of the complaints voiced by Republicans, including Randy Kuhl, is that the House is conducting its business on a fast track, limiting amendments and debate. This was true for the first set of votes of the 100 hour agenda, but the last vote on meaningful legislation, HR 547, looks more like business as usual for the House.

HR 547 is a narrowly drawn bill that seeks to increase markets for alternative fuels. Of the 10 amendments offered to the bill, 7 were from Republicans. All passed, including one amendment offered by Charlie Dent (R-PA-15) which was opposed by a majority of Democrats.

Like every other major piece of legislation in the House, the vote was preceded by a Republican motion to refer the legislation back to committee for further consideration. As usual, that vote failed on party lines (with a few crossovers).

HR 547 is a tiny bill - two pages of text - on a generally agreed-upon topic, so it's probably hasty to draw too many conclusions about the way the Democrats intend to run the House. Nevertheless, it's an example of a bi-partisan legislative process, which was pretty rare in the last few sessions of Congress.

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