Democrats Not Happy With Budget Absentees

Posted May 3, 2005 at 6:18pm

House Democratic leaders remain miffed that seven of their Members missed Thursday’s tight budget vote and plan to make it clear to the Caucus that they will not tolerate absenteeism.

Leadership will inform Democratic Members that unless prior notice is given, they consider it unacceptable to miss key votes. The budget conference report eked through the House on Thursday by a 214-to-211 margin. All Democrats voting and 15 Republicans opposed the measure.

“The issue is not the number” of Democrats who were absent, said a Democratic leadership aide. “The issue is, did people skip the vote and not tell us? You need to tell us so we know what to expect.”

House leaders acknowledge the GOP would have passed the budget measure regardless of the absences, but they don’t want their party to make it easier for the majority to pass what they view as poor policies. The more Democratic votes on the board, the greater the pressure on marginal Republicans to take politically difficult positions, they said.

Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said Tuesday he has not yet talked to all of the seven Democrats who missed last week’s vote but plans to do so. Several of those Members informed leadership in advance that they wouldn’t attend the vote, sources said.

“I would have hoped they were there,” Hoyer said of the seven. “I will reiterate to the Caucus to let us know when they cannot be available.”

A senior House Democratic staffer said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) “is very unhappy with the Members who missed the votes.” The aide said the Minority Leader plans to approach those Members individually, as well as the Caucus as a whole, to let them know it is unacceptable to not be present for key votes.

The renewed push for participation comes on the heels of a major dust-up in the Caucus two weeks ago over a Democratic divide on the bankruptcy bill. That issue brought to a head an undercurrent of tension between politically emboldened House Democratic centrists, many of whom supported the bankruptcy measure, and long-dominant liberals.

Sources insist that the concern over absenteeism on the budget bill is entirely separate from the larger Caucus rift. Leaders, they said, are always worried about Member attendance and regularly make an issue of it on bills on which the party is whipping.

Previous votes on budget reports showed similar Democratic absences, including four in 2004, five in 2003 and four in 2002.

Democrats already plan to make a political issue of threatened Republicans’ positions on the GOP budget. Democrats will argue that the budget is a blueprint of the GOP’s priorities, which emphasize cutting key programs and ignoring the path to fiscal discipline.

The seven Democrats missing Thursday’s budget vote were Caucus Chairman Jim Clyburn (S.C.) and Reps. Lloyd Doggett (Calif.), Bob Filner (Calif.), Harold Ford Jr. (Tenn.), William Jefferson (La.), Steve Rothman (N.J.) and Edolphus Towns (N.Y.).