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Heller Pursues Bipartisanship With an Eye on 2012

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Sen. Dean Heller joined with the nonpartisan group No Labels last week in calling for reforms to make Congress less partisan and more functional. The GOP Senator has made it a habit to pick strategic moments to work with Democrats. This tactic seems designed to help him statewide in Nevada in a competitive Senate race.

“It’s no surprise that Dean Heller suddenly remembered it’s an election year and is now desperately trying to distance himself from his unpopular pro-Wall Street, anti-middle class agenda. However, you can’t uncast votes, and we’ll make sure Nevada voters remember who the real Dean Heller is come Election Day,” said Zac Petkanas, a senior adviser to the Nevada Democratic Party and a former Reid aide.

Besides the Democratic balanced budget amendment proposal, Heller has supported Democratic legislation in the Senate on at least seven other occasions.

Heller’s bipartisanship in the Senate has leaned toward the pragmatic. He joined with Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) on a bill to withhold Members’ pay unless the budget and appropriations bills are approved; introduced legislation co-sponsored by six Democrats to repatriate the remains of sailors killed in 1804 in what is now Libya; and co-authored a bill with Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) to increase criminal penalties for using ultralight aircraft to smuggle drugs.

But his Monday statement on the payroll tax cut showed a willingness to take on his own party in some instances.

“The American people deserve long-term, forward-thinking policies. However, there is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out. What is playing out in Washington, DC this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people,” Heller said in the statement.

Heller broke more with his own party in the House on issues such as extending unemployment benefits, prescription drug reimportation, stem-cell research and federal penalties for gasoline price gouging. Additionally, Heller worked across the aisle with Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, Rep. John Lewis (Ga.) and Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.).

Democrats contend that Heller’s record won’t obscure his two votes for the controversial Medicare reform plan authored by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Heller voted for it once in the House and then again in the Senate, and Democrats view it as a major vulnerability. Berkley and her allies also intend to hit Heller for votes to maintain subsidies to oil companies and to block the nomination of Richard Cordray to lead the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

Additionally, Democrats are likely to dredge up Heller’s voting record in the Nevada Legislature, which includes votes that could be interpreted as pro-abortion-rights and choosing not to block tax increases.

“These issues are going to be a problem for him. We’re going to hit him on it,” said Matt Canter, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. “The notion that he has a principled conservative record is just not true.”

Heller’s camp countered by saying Berkley is on the wrong side of the issues that will matter the most to voters in November 2012 — Obama’s health care law, the 2009 stimulus package, cap-and-trade energy legislation and jobs.

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