Democrat ‘no’ votes on healthcare legislation anger labor unions

Unions are likely to rescind their backing of labor-friendly lawmakers who voted against the healthcare bill and may support challengers. 

Karen Ackerman, the AFL-CIO’s political director, called the healthcare reform legislation a “defining bill.” She said the group will consider a lawmaker’s entire record, but added that even those Democrats with solid pro-labor voting records could lose organized labor’s support based on where they came down on the healthcare overhaul. 

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“Like the Civil Rights Act, Social Security and Medicare, it is a defining bill, considering the effect it will have on the middle class,” Ackerman said. 

Of the 34 House Democrats who voted against the bill, more than half a dozen members have been big union supporters this Congress, voting all or most of the time with labor on its priority legislation, according to interim 2009 legislative scorecards kept by the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Lawmakers such as Reps. John Adler (D-N.J.), Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Zack Space (D-Ohio) and others have all scored well with both labor groups.



“Every race will be different. We are going to look at these members of Congress and who made what promises. Several of these members specifically promised to pass healthcare reform,” said Lori Lodes, an SEIU spokeswoman. “This just isn’t any other vote. This is something we have been fighting for since 2002.”

While happy that the healthcare bill passed, organized labor has been frustrated with Democrats who have been unable to move much of their agenda on Capitol Hill in the 111th Congress.

On its legislative scorecard for this Congress, the AFL-CIO has graded House members on 17 votes so far; SEIU has graded on 11 votes. Some of the issues that both labor groups kept track of included the economic stimulus package, an expansion of the Children’s Health Insurance Program and the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. 

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was on Capitol Hill on Sunday to personally lobby members to support healthcare reform. He was spotted talking with Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), who ended up voting against the bill.

A number of members who voted against the healthcare bill — such as Reps. Jason Altmire (D-Pa.), Michael Arcuri (D-N.Y.), Stephen Lynch (D-Mass.), Mike McMahon (D-N.Y.) and Space — have already emerged as potential targets for the labor movement. Several were lobbied heavily — or even threatened with a rescinding of support — in efforts to win their votes over the weekend.

For example, SEIU is actively working on an effort in New York to recruit third-party candidates to run under the Working Families Party banner against Arcuri and McMahon. 

Further, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Monday that Jack Shea, president of the Allegheny County Labor Council, is considering a challenge to Altmire in either the primary or general election.

And that list of targets could grow. For example, SEIU has strong membership not only in the districts of the five members mentioned above but also in the districts of Reps. Adler, Lipinski, Frank Kratovil (D-Md.), Harry Teague (D-N.M.) and Glenn Nye (D-Va.) — all “no” votes on Sunday.

“Everyone who voted against passing health insurance reform yesterday will have to explain to voters why they stood up with the insurance industry and not for them,” Lodes said.

But coupled with plans to oust certain Democrats, unions are preparing to defend the seats of members who voted for healthcare reform and are facing tough races this year. 

“First thing we want to do is take the time to thank those who took the tough vote,” Ackerman said. “This is not a one-time appreciation rally. We will let them know that we stand with them.”

Ackerman said the AFL-CIO is looking to set up rallies soon for members in districts won by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential race. 

The union federation is also looking to get a grassroots education campaign under way to explain the benefits of the bill; organize call-in days so members can hear support from voters; and engage local union leaders in support of lawmakers who voted for healthcare reform. 

The SEIU, too, is seeking to help with the defense effort. The union has strong membership in districts for a dozen members who voted for the bill and are facing tough races — such as Reps. Chris Carney (D-Pa.), John Boccieri (D-Ohio) and Charlie Wilson (D-Ohio).

Ackerman noted that the AFL-CIO’s state chapters will make their own decisions on whom to support and not to support this election. But voting against the healthcare reform bill will certainly play into those decisions, even if members, like Lynch and Lipinski, voted for the “fixes” bill later on Sunday. 

Lynch, himself a former local union president, had big problems with the Senate healthcare bill’s tax on high-cost insurance plans, which was lobbied against heavily by labor groups. He voted against the Senate version on Sunday but for the legislation that would significantly water down the tax. 

“I couldn’t answer that at this point. It is unfortunate that a guy like Congressman Lynch voted against the main bill. The fact that he voted for the reconciliation bill seems like he was trying to have it both ways,” Ackerman said. “Frankly, I’m not sure on how that will play out.”

Labor record for House Democrats who voted against healthcare reform bill

MEMBER AFL-CIO 2009 SEIU 2009
Rep. John Adler (N.J.) 100% 90%
Rep. Daniel Lipinski (Ill.) 100% 90%
Rep. Stephen Lynch (Mass.) 100% 90%
Rep. Zack Space (Ohio) 100% 90%
Rep. Ben Chandler (Ky.) 100% 81%
Rep. Ike Skelton (Mo.) 100% 72%
Rep. Mike McMahon (N.Y.) 94% 90%
Rep. Jason Altmire (Pa.) 94% 63%
Rep. Artur Davis (Ala.) * 94% 63%
Rep. Charlie Melancon (La.) * 94% 60%
Rep. Rick Boucher (Va.) 93% 77%
Rep. Michael Arcuri (N.Y.) 88% 81%
Rep. Chet Edwards (Texas) 88% 72%
Rep. Larry Kissell (N.C.) 88% 72%
Rep. Mike Ross (Ark.) 88% 72%
Rep. Lincoln Davis (Tenn.) 88% 63%
Rep. Tim Holden (Pa.) 88% 63%
Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) 88% 63%
Rep. John Tanner (Tenn.) * 87% 72%
Rep. John Barrow (Ga.) 82% 63%
Rep. Mike McIntyre (N.C.) 82% 63%
Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.) 80% 70%
Rep. Marion Berry (Ark.) * 79% 66%
Rep. Collin Peterson (Minn.) 76% 72%
Rep. Harry Teague (N.M.) 76% 63%
Rep. Glenn Nye (Va.) 65% 72%
Rep. Jim Matheson (Utah) 65% 54%
Rep. Jim Marshall (Ga.) 65% 45%
Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.) 65% 36%
Rep. Travis Childers (Miss.) 65% 36%
Rep. Frank Kratovil (Md.) 59% 54%
Rep. Walt Minnick (Idaho) 53% 54%
Rep. Gene Taylor (Miss.) 47% 36%
Rep. Bobby Bright (Ala.) 31% 18%

* Member is either retiring or running for another elected office.

Source: 2009 Interim legislative scorecards for the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Numbers were rounded to the nearest percentage point.

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