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Welch Is Working His Minority Priorities

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Rep. Peter Welch pushed two big floor votes recently: on the debt limit and on withdrawing troops from Afghanistan. Both lost, but Welch was pleased they reached the floor.

Rep. Peter Welch is coming out from behind the minority shadow, having claimed a little limelight on two pressing issues while also working with Republicans.

The three-term lawmaker's vocal presence is in stark contrast to Democratic leaders, who have largely struggled to gain traction under GOP rule. While they still navigate new positions in the minority, the Vermont Democrat has partnered with Republicans on a host of issues and succeeded in his push to have a floor vote on the debt limit.

On Tuesday, a "clean" bill to increase the debt limit without promising spending cuts made its way to the House floor for certain defeat. Although the bill was doomed from the start, Welch was pleased to have 97 Democrats vote in favor of a straightforward increase in the debt limit. And it came just days after the House considered his high-profile amendment to withdraw military forces from Afghanistan.

The back-to-back votes have given the mild-mannered lawmaker newfound media attention, but Welch maintains his rising status is not by design.

"There's no conscious plan here; my whole life in politics as a state legislator and in Congress has been about strengthening the middle class," he said in an interview.

Welch's efforts on the debt limit were strictly with Democrats, but he struck an unlikely partnership with conservative Rep. Jason Chaffetz on Afghanistan. Welch and the Utah Republican co-sponsored an amendment to withdraw troops from the country, which was defeated 123-294 on the floor last week during consideration of the defense authorization bill.

"To have that many votes indicates that there are a lot more out there," Welch said of the Afghanistan vote, which included 16 Republican supporters.

Chaffetz came to Welch's office in Longworth on Tuesday night for a tele-town hall with Vermont constituents. The two huddled over a speakerphone responding to questions from callers while staff munched on pizza and manned the lines. It was the first time the two hosted such an event, but in an interview Welch later said he's made a practice of dining with Members of the GOP.

"I've hosted Costco lasagna parties," he said, noting his last included five Democrats and five Republicans, including Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (Ill.). One Democratic lobbyist said Welch is positioning himself to become a close confidant of the next generation of elected leaders.

"I think he's lining himself up perfectly," the lobbyist said, noting that Welch does helpful things for Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) and Reps. Joe Crowley (N.Y.) and Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), who are all considered in prime spots to move up the leadership ladder whenever Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) steps down.

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