Bass Off Whip Roster Again

Posted July 3, 2003 at 5:37pm

Most House Republican moderates are used to being in and out of their party leaders’ good graces. But Rep. Charles Bass (N.H.) is probably the only one who has actually been in and out of leadership — twice.

In January 2002 and again earlier this year, Bass resigned from the GOP Whip team for going against the party line. And yet he insists that he maintains a good relationship with the Republican leadership, even pitching in to help on some tough votes.

“[Majority Whip] Roy Blunt [R-Mo.] and I are good friends,” said Bass, explaining that he doesn’t believe his occasional rebellions have soured their relationship. “It wasn’t planned, it just happened, and there are no hard feelings.”

In January 2002, Bass left then-Majority Whip Tom DeLay’s (R-Texas) vote-counting team after providing one of the last signatures on the campaign finance reform discharge petition.

He and other GOP signatories annoyed Republican leaders who opposed the legislation and were unhappy about being forced to schedule a vote on it.

A year later, Blunt took over the Majority Whip post and brought Bass back into the fold. The New Hampshire lawmaker said he even assisted Blunt in codifying the rules for Assistant Whips and Deputy Whips. “I helped him come up with the standards during organization,” Bass said.

Those guidelines essentially call for Whips to be team players, and although some deviation from party orthodoxy may be allowed, the one hard and fast rule is that members of the Whip team may not vote against a rule on the floor.

But in late April, Bass did exactly that, voting no on a rule governing debate for the reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. He was one of just four Republicans to do so.

The five-term lawmaker resigned from the Whip team again over the vote, which he cast because an IDEA amendment that he sponsored with fellow moderate GOP Rep. Rob Simmons (Conn.) was not allowed to reach the floor.

“It is perfectly reasonable to disagree with my position. But I am disappointed that leadership would deny me the ability to bring the issue to the floor for a vote,” Bass said at the time.

Yet while he is now on the outside looking in, Bass has continued to help the leadership on occasion by keeping tabs on his fellow moderates.

“I’m still supporting the Whip team in any way I can on an informal basis,” Bass said.

His exact situation is unusual, but Bass is certainly not the only centrist whose interaction with party leaders often turns on a dime.

“The leadership one day is going to be very upset,” said Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.), a leading moderate. “Then they calm down and go to the next day and realize we’ve got to stick together.”

Though the occasional vote may have long-reaching consequences, usually the leadership tries to avoid meting out any punishment that could result in more defections in the future.

“You can’t really afford to alienate anybody full time,” said a senior House GOP leadership aide. “Business is business.”

What has helped Bass, according to Members and aides, is the fact that he always gives leaders a heads-up when he is going to cast a dissenting vote. Disloyalty can be tolerated, but vote-counters hate being surprised.

“The reason that he is successful is that he’s upfront with the leadership when he can’t be with them,” said centrist Rep. Jack Quinn (R-N.Y.).

As is the case with Quinn and other Northeastern moderates, Bass’ stances often reflect the fact that he holds a relatively tough seat.

Registered Republicans outnumber Democrats in the 2nd district, and Bass won re-election in 2002 with 57 percent of the vote against the well-funded Katrina Swett (D), daughter of Rep. Tom Lantos (D-Calif.).

At the same time, Al Gore won the district by a point in 2000, and there are some matters — special education funding, in particular — that carry a great deal of political weight in New Hampshire and throughout the region.

“There are some issues that are really important in the Northeast,” Bass said.