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Races Where Spending Bill Vote Could Be an Issue

Neither Republicans nor Democrats, whose Senate committee is led by Tester, see a clear political win from the omnibus vote. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Congress hadn't even left town when political campaigns in some of the most competitive House and Senate races zeroed in on Friday’s vote on a massive government spending bill. But rather than cleaving along partisan lines, Democrats and Republicans — incumbents and challengers alike — came down on both sides of the issue depending on their states and districts, suggesting national party committees aren't likely to take up the vote in their national messaging. The chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Mississippi Sen. Roger Wicker, voted for the bill – even though some of his most vulnerable colleagues opposed it – while Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Jon Tester of Montana opposed it, with similar divergences in his own party. In the case of this bill, every candidate is on their own.  

Pennsylvania Senate Sen. Patrick J. Toomey voted against the bill, criticizing it as an instrument of the government’s “out-of-control spending” that would exacerbate the deficit, fund the resettlement of Syrian refugees and implement “damaging” federal regulations. And yet, in a statement released after the vote, he went on to tout that the bill for which he did not vote includes bipartisan proposals that he said will support jobs in the Keystone State. He also praised the bill’s suspension of the medical device tax, support for the military, Alzheimer’s research and health care for 9/11 responders.   That’s a contradiction that former Rep. Joe Sestak, who’s vying for the Democratic nomination to challenge Toomey in 2016, seized on in Twitter messages Friday afternoon. https://twitter.com/JoeSestak/status/677930799744868354  

Ohio Senate:  Ohio Sen. Rob Portman also voted against the bill, saying the total level of spending was too high. But like Toomey, he went on to praise the bill's individual components for funding American troops and intelligence agencies, as well as several Ohio-specific projects. Former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland used the same theme Sestak did in Pennsylvania to attack Portman’s vote, hitting him for “hypocrisy and duplicity.” Missouri Senate:  Sen. Roy Blunt, a Republican leader in the Senate, joined the majority in supporting the omnibus spending bill.  “Today, we are facing more threats, coming from more places, than ever before. I will continue working to advance legislation that puts our national security and the safety of the American people first,” Blunt said in a statement after the vote. Blunt’s focus on the security aspects of the omnibus served as a not-so-subtle rebuke of attacks from his Democratic opponent, Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who last week called Blunt weak on national security. On this issue, Kander placed himself to Blunt’s right, criticizing the “hundreds of millions in irresponsible spending that no one in Washington has the political courage to eliminate.”  

Arizona Senate:  Meanwhile in Arizona, it was the Republican incumbent, Sen. John McCain, who opposed the bill on national security grounds. “Congress shamefully took billions of taxpayer dollars that should have been focused on our warfighters and loaded up the omnibus spending bill with wasteful, unnecessary, and inappropriate pork-barrel projects," he said. His vote against the omnibus puts him in line with at least one of his primary opponents, former state Sen. Kelli Ward, who took to Twitter to opine against the measure, as well as another potential rival, Rep. David Schweikert, who voted against it in the House.  

Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, the Democrat who is challenging McCain, voted for the bill on Friday. She accused the fifth-term lawmaker of opposing legislation that she said would assist America’s fight against the Islamic State group, also known as ISIS or ISIL.  Louisiana Senate:  In the growing primary campaign for Republican David Vitter’s soon-to-be-open seat, two House Republicans were split. Rep. John Fleming, a member of the House Freedom Caucus, said there “should be nothing but a lump of coal in our Republican stocking this year for what we did," referring to the House's passage of the bill. Rep. Charles Boustany, Jr., saw the bill differently, namely as a gift to the Pelican State’s struggling oil industry. “The bill lifts the ban on crude oil exports, sets new standards for Red Snapper fishing in the Gulf, reins in the EPA and the IRS, contains significant pro-life protections, and increases funding for our military while providing support to key allies like Israel,” he said. Florida Senate:  In another state where Republican congressman are fighting each other for an open Senate seat, House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Ron DeSantis opposed the bill, while Rep. David Jolly voted for it. “The 2,009 page omnibus spending bill represents Congress at its worst,” DeSantis said. “The practice of passing bills to find out what is in them represents a Forrest Gump–box of chocolates approach to government in which the taxpayers never know what they are going to get.” Jolly has not weighed in about his vote.

HOUSE RACES

New Hampshire's 1st District: GOP Rep. Frank Guinta potentially faces both a competitive primary and general election, and already multiple Granite State Republicans have called on him to resign for campaign finance violations. He opposed the bill, as would his Republican opponent, former University of New Hampshire business school dean Dan Innis, who called the bill “a beast” Friday. Should Guinta survive his primary, though, his omnibus vote may come up in a general election race against former Democratic Rep. Carol Shea-Porter. Iowa's 1st and 3rd districts: The Iowa Democratic Party attacked Republican Reps. Rod Blum and David Young for opposing the omnibus. That Rod Blum, a member of the Freedom Caucus, opposed the omnibus — which he called a “backroom spending deal that leaves our children and grandchildren with the bill” — isn’t surprising. But as the second most vulnerable House member , in a race the Rothenberg & Gonzales Report/Roll Call rates Tilts Democratic, his vote may invite attack from his likely Democratic opponent Monica Vernon. In Young’s 3rd District, the only Tossup race in Iowa, Democratic challenger Jim Mowrer attacked the freshman member for being “beholden to the far-right of the Republican Party.” For his part, Young spoke to the frustration of many conservative Republicans who objected to rolling individual spending measures into one giant package. He touted his role on the Appropriations Committee, where, he said, “ we passed 12 bills that held the line on wasteful spending,” but he concluded, “this was neither the process nor the result I or Iowans wanted.” Nevada's 4th District:  Republican Rep. Cresent Hardy, who’s running for re-election in a Tilts Democratic race, also opposed the omnibus, calling it a “Frankenstein bill.” That earned him criticism from the crowded Democratic field looking to unseat him.  

PRESIDENTIAL RACE

With five senators running for president, and bickering over Senate legislation already fueling bickering in the GOP primary, the omnibus vote will no doubt also come up in the presidential race. Sen. Bernard Sanders, a Democratic candidate, joined Republican candidates Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky in voting against it. South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham split with his top endorser – McCain – and voted yes. The other Senate Republican in the race, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, chose to spend his day on the campaign trail and did not vote.

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