GOP Unity Is Forcing Heavy Lifts for Democrats

Posted June 16, 2009 at 6:23pm

It didn’t take Republicans long to learn to stick together in the minority.

House Republicans voted en masse against the $787 billion stimulus package. And all but five voted Tuesday against the $105.9 billion war funding supplemental, and then only after Democrats showed they could get the votes needed to pass it on their own. The supplemental narrowly advanced, 226-202.

It took Democrats nearly a decade after losing the House to achieve that level of discipline, but Republicans say they know the value of sticking together.

“We learned that from Nancy Pelosi,— said one GOP chief of staff.

In the final years of GOP rule, when Democrats started to smell victory, then-Minority Leader Pelosi (D-Calif.) had marshaled her party to stick together on big votes, forcing Republicans into a series of paralyzing debates within their own Conference.

The then-Republican majority was narrower than the one Democrats now hold, so each vote mattered more. But Democrats are naturally more fractious, so Republican unity on the war bill and on upcoming issues like health care and energy is causing major headaches for the Democratic leadership.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said Tuesday he couldn’t count on any Republicans to vote for Democratic bills, whether it be the war supplemental or any other.

And as a result, Democratic leaders had to whip anti-war Democrats hard to support the supplemental to avoid an embarrassing defeat.

Republicans say Democrats have made it easier for the GOP to stick together.

“Democratic policies have been so extreme that not only does it unite us to vote together but it also brings a number of Democrats over to our side,— said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the chief deputy whip.

And McCarthy said Democrats have made it easier for Republicans to oppose them by refusing to work with them on the supplemental, the stimulus package and other items.

“This supplemental would not be difficult to pass if it was a clean supplemental,— he said. Republicans won’t support “having to borrow $105 billion and give it to our enemies,— McCarthy said.

Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee and a Rules Committee member, said Pelosi’s hardball approach has also pushed away Republicans.

“It’s turning people’s stomach. It’s not honest; it’s not ethical. They are making it easier for us,— Sessions said.

Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), a leading moderate who voted for the war bill, said Republican unity has more to do with what they are hearing back home than any tactical strategy under the dome, noting that he’s getting standing-room-only crowds at GOP events in his district. “I think the average Democrat who looks at the TV is happy and sitting on their sofa. The average Republican is getting angry and energized,— Kirk said.

“You can feel things trending our way and greater and greater concern with the administration, especially on core issues like spending, taxes and borrowing, which unites Republicans,— Kirk said.

Kirk predicted that Democratic unity will break before Republicans will. “The closer we get to a November election, the more moderates will break because they will fear the voters more than they fear the Speaker.—

One Democratic leadership aide, however, argued that Republican togetherness is less than meets the eye, pointing to lower-profile bills like children’s health insurance, which garnered significant support across the aisle.

And this aide said Republicans have not been able to hold up the Democratic agenda to date. “No Congress has been this productive in generations,— the aide said.

Another Democratic leadership aide said Republicans’ marching together against the stimulus and now the war bill will backfire, comparing them to Wile E. Coyote.

“He has an anvil, and he thinks he’s going to throw it over a cliff and hit the Road Runner, but it’s actually tied to his foot,— the aide said. “I think voting against the troops is not an easy vote, and that’s what Republicans are doing and crowing about. It’s tough to go back to their district and say … I was for it before I was against it.—