Republican House of Representative staff members said on Saturday that the Democrats “manhandled them” which resulted in a unified GOP vote against the stimulus.
“No transparency, no cooperation, no bipartisanship,” one staffer told us.
So even though Republican Joseph Cao said Friday morning he’d vote for the stimulus, by the afternoon the Republicans in the House stood united….
Rep. Joseph Cao (R.-La.) defied convention once again on Friday by casting another vote against the Democrats’ economic stimulus package — hours after telling a crowd of reporters in the Capitol that he’d likely support it.
His surprising turn meant that the $787 billion package of spending and tax cuts the House approved Friday passed without any Republican support.
While the party had unanimously opposed an earlier version of the bill last month, few expected a repeat party rejection this time around. But members of the minority once again sought safety in numbers by voting against the package as a unified bloc, giving the ever-dwindling number of Republicans in tight districts more political cover to explain their votes back home.
Afterward, Democratic leaders were amazed that the Republicans stood together to oppose an economic stimulus package endorsed by the still very popular president.
“It’s pretty clear they made a calculated decision to bank on failure,” said Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, the chairman of the Democrats’ campaign arm in the House, in an appearance on MSNBC.
Most Republicans genuinely despised the bill Democrats crafted, arguing that the legislation favored increased spending for pre-existing federal programs rather than tax cuts or money for new roads and other stimulative infrastructure projects. This included lawmakers in more moderate districts, like Pennsylvania Rep. Charlie Dent, whose constituents made more noise opposing the legislation than supporting it.
But a few required a bit of extra coaxing.
Party Whip Eric Cantor spent Friday morning on the phone with Michigan Rep. Fred Upton, a wavering Republican who many expected to support the package.
“This was not the open, bipartisan process in the House that we had been promised,” Upton said afterward.
Upton complained about the negotiators’ decision to strip $10 billion in tax incentives for new cars. Along those lines, party leaders tapped Michigan Rep. Candice Miller to offer a motion to reinstate the incentives, allowing her to register her support for a popular measure back home before opposing the broader bill.
“This was not an easy vote,” Miller said. “I had to dig down deep.”
The White House also reached out to many wavering Republicans to make the case for supporting the stimulus. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a fellow House Republican until his retirement last year, called many of his former colleagues seeking their votes on the measure.
A handful of wavering Republicans made up their minds at the last minute, after Democratic leaders unveiled the final legislation online late Thursday night.
“By extending the funds to projects outside job creation and protecting people in need, the authors demonstrated a failure to recognize that every dollar in this bill is borrowed,” Delaware Rep. Mike Castle said in a statement afterward. “I was hopeful that the negotiations surrounding this bill would result in a much cleaner and transparent product. Instead, the bill contains too much unrelated, unfocused spending that does more to burden Americans than it does to help change our current course.”
Castle and Upton sat next to each other during the vote, staring up at the big board where roll calls are tallied and colleagues awaited their decisions.
“I have listened to President Obama describe his vision of creating new jobs in this nation and feel strongly that this objective was over-shadowed by the real contents of the bill.” Castle said. “The original House measure failed to shift, in negotiations with the Senate, enough to truly meet the changing demands of the American workforce.”
Anecdotally, Republicans were getting negative feedback from their constituents all week, even though House Democrats and their allies ran ads back home to pressure many of these lawmakers to switch their votes in support of the plan.
“I’m just astonished by the response from people back home,” Michigan Rep. Vernon J. Ehlers said.
“It still has a lot of bad stuff in it,” Gerlach said. “It’s not going over well in our district.”
“The president wanted a bipartisan bill, and Speaker Pelosi said, ‘My way or the highway,’” Biggert said. “Where are we going to pay for it?”
Most of these lawmakers complained that Democrats had authored a partisan bill and barred them from the negotiations.
“I like to think of myself as someone who keeps an open mind,” Miller said. “I really wanted to get to ‘yes.’”
“I want to see the president succeed,” Biggert said. “We need to do something, and we need to do something right away.”
“The president’s relations with the GOP will improve as he learned the hard way that he could not cede all this control to the Speaker,” Upton said.
However the vote plays politically, Republican conservatives applauded their more moderate colleagues afterward.
“Republicans are Republicans again,” conservative Arizona Rep. Jeff Flake said after the vote.
But Cao remained the most compelling storyline. The Vietnamese lawmaker shocked the political universe by knocking off indicted Democratic Rep. William Jefferson last year in the overwhelmingly Democratic New Orleans district.
He told reporters an hour or two before the vote that he was strongly considering a vote in favor of the stimulus measure after rejecting an earlier version – “At this point, I’m leaning ‘yes,’ but I’m not absolutely certain.” He reasoned that his heavily Democratic district could use the money with many of his constituents still struggling to rebound from Hurricane Katrina.
Beforehand, Cao acknowledged that Republican leaders had put “pressure” on him to oppose the package, and the party’s chief deputy whip, California Rep. Kevin O. McCarthy, stood near Cao during the entire vote.
“They encouraged me to vote ‘no,’ but they understand the needs of my district,” Cao said.
“All of us have districts,” Republican Leader John A. Boehner said after the vote. “I voted my vote, he voted his.
“Our members understood the stakes here,” Republican Whip Eric Cantor said. “We worked hard to educate our members on the details of the bill.
“Often times I will have to vote against the power,” Cao said.
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