Partisanship Flourishes In Wake of House Vote

Posted February 13, 2009 at 4:32pm

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reveled in victory Friday afternoon and dismissed her GOP critics after passing the landmark $787 billion economic stimulus package on a strict, party-line vote.

“Barack Obama in just a few short weeks has passed one of the biggest economic recovery packages in history,” she said.

And Pelosi defended herself against Republican charges that her partisanship led to their voting en bloc against the bill.

“The Republicans want to go down the same old path that got us to this place that we are now,” she argued. “We are not going back … As I’ve said to you before, when you have no ideas, and you can’t argue the policy, you argue the process. And if that doesn’t work with you, you start arguing personality … We’d like to work with them and incorporate their ideas, when they are in the furtherance of a new direction. But we will not turn back.”

Republicans specifically pointed to Pelosi as a key reason for why their Caucus stayed unified in Friday’s 246-183 stimulus vote.

“If I was the president I would learn from this,” said Deputy Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.). “I think the difficulty comes from the Speaker. Don’t allow the Speaker to play politics with his own agenda.”

McCarthy said Obama allowed the House to craft and announce the package, and he said that in the future the president should come out with his own legislation first after working with both parties.

But while Republicans sniped, Democrats were quick to defend their leader.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) blamed Republican intransigence, likening it to 1993 when the Democrats passed their economic plan without GOP votes.

“It takes two to tango,” Hoyer said, noting that Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his conference to vote “no” even before meeting with Obama.

And Hoyer noted that just last year Pelosi had worked with a GOP president to address a national crisis.

“It is an excuse, not a reason,” Hoyer said of the criticism of the Speaker.

Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) also attacked Republicans, alluding to the 1930s, when Republican opposition to the New Deal led to their party’s political nadir.

Paraphrasing Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Larson said that the Republicans seemed to be “frozen in the ice of their own indifference.”

And Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) charged, “They just voted against the largest tax cut for the middle class Americans in the history of this country.”

Still, Republicans congratulated themselves for holding together against a package that they charged was full of wasteful spending that would fail to revive the economy.

“It sends an incredible message that Republicans are united on fiscal responsibility,” said Republican Study Committee Chairman Tom Price (Ga.). “This won’t work.”

Republicans also pointed with satisfaction that seven Democrats joined with them in opposing the measure: Reps. Bobby Bright (Ala.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Parker Griffith (Ala.), Walt Minnick (Idaho), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Heath Shuler (N.C.) and Gene Taylor (Miss.).

Five Democrats voted against the initial House version of the stimulus bill, but on Friday flipped their votes to support the conference report: Reps. Allen Boyd (Fla.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Brad Ellsworth (Ind.), Paul Kanjorski (Pa.) and Frank Kratovil (Md.).

Boyd, a prominent Blue Dog Coalition member, said he switched his vote because the conference report contains 40 percent less spending than the House version and most of that spending is “truly stimulative.”

In addition, Boyd said, a vote on the conference report is “playing with real bullets. This is the bill that goes to the president. We had worked the process.”

That doesn’t mean the fiscally conservative Democrat was happy about everything in the final plan, however. “I voted for the bill like it was. What should have been in it or shouldn’t have been in it is a moot point,” said Boyd.

Cooper, also a Blue Dog, said he ultimately voted for the conference report because it is more targeted that the original House bill and “much closer to the president’s original request.”

Of the seven Democrats voting against the bill, DeFazio was the only one who supported the package when it first passed the House.

Speaking on the floor after the vote, he said he opposed the final plan because it stripped too much money for school construction and infrastructure investments to fund tax cuts — adjustments made in the Senate to win the critical support of three moderate Republicans.

“I never met a tax cut that could even fill a pothole,” DeFazio said.

In the wake of the vote, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) repeated what has become a familiar refrain: crediting Obama for his outreach and blaming House Democratic leaders for cutting Republicans out of the debate.

Noting Obama’s repeated sit-downs with GOP Members, Cantor said, “The problem was there wasn’t a reciprocal effort, if you could call it that, on the part of the Speaker.”

Of the Republican whip effort that again prevented a single defection, Cantor said the GOP leaders “don’t lean. We worked very hard to educate our members as soon as we could get the details of the bill.”