With eye on '08, Republicans scrutinize Democratic votes

Two months after their midterm election defeat, Republicans have begun to monitor the campaign pledges and voting behaviors of centrist and newly elected Democrats in hope of eroding their support in November 2008.

Republicans leaders believe this could pressure Democrats to desert their party in favor of a conservative agenda, making it harder for their leaders to corral the diverse caucus.

“Messages resonate differently by region,” said a Republican leadership aide. “[Republicans] are going to be a constant headache for Democrats whose conservative rhetoric has gone through the Pelosi agenda wringer.”

For the past two weeks, the GOP has introduced motions to recommit Democratic proposals on implementing provisions of the 9/11 Commission Report recommendations, increasing the minimum wage, and changing Medicare Part D price controls.

While all GOP alternatives voted on thus far have failed by partisan margins, Republicans cite the failure of some Democrats to support the measures as a sign that they are straying from their promises.

On Tuesday, the names of dozens of Democrats who voted for Republican legislation in the past or made promises during their campaign that Republicans believe supported a more conservative agenda were listed in a document distributed to reporters by the Republican Conference.

Two new members, Reps. Brad Ellsworth (D-Ind.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), were singled out repeatedly because their districts are traditionally Republican strongholds.

“My promise to represent Hoosiers of the 8th district comes before anything else,” Ellsworth said. “I wish they spent more time targeting the problems of this country than targeting me.”

A spokesman for Shuler did not return calls for comment.

The first item listed was the implementation of the 9/11 recommendations. Republicans rallied against a part of the legislation, saying the Democrats were giving the U.N. too much authority over some aspects of U.S. foreign policy. They singled out 15 Democrats who either voted for a resolution that called for U.N. reform or had won the seat of a member who voted for the measure.

Of these, only Reps. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) and Jim Marshall (D-Ga.) sided with Republicans.

Democrats argue that the legislation in no way limits the U.S. government’s ability to protect the country. 

Drew Hammill, a spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said the Speaker was unconcerned about the GOP tactic, and countered by citing the final passage of the 9/11 Commission provisions, where 68 Republicans crossed over to vote with the Democratic Caucus.

“If yesterday’s motion to recommit is an example of their policy alternatives, they are in trouble,” he said. 

When asked whether Pelosi was worried about Democrats voting for Republican motions, Hammill responded, “She has told members to vote with their conscience, their constituents and the Constitution.” 

Republicans are challenging members from business-heavy districts on the proposed increase of minimum wage, which they say will hurt small businesses.

Democrats who voted for the Republican minimum-wage bill, such as Rep. Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), are among 25 Democrats listed. Rep. Tim Mahoney (D-Fla.), who replaced Rep. Mark Foley (R-Fla.), is the sole freshman on the list and is identified as coming from a “pro–business Bush district.”

Brian Herman, a spokesman for Bean, an original cosponsor on the Democrat minimum-wage bill, said the congresswoman supports small business and her record is proven.

“This will help small business in Illinois,” Herman said, explaining that since Illinois has a higher minimum wage than many states, the measure will “help level the playing field.”

Despite their efforts to discourage Democrats from supporting the measure, 82 Republicans voted for the passage of the minimum-wage bill. The final vote on the measure totaled 315 to 116.

Finally, Republicans listed 11 Democrats who voted for the Medicare Part D, including Reps. Bud Cramer (D-Ala.) and Marshall, and included the names of five members who they say have no voting record on the provision.

Seventeen fiscally conservative Democrats who voted against the Republican motion that condemned the so-called “pay-go” provision in the bill were criticized for failing to prevent raising taxes.  

The Democratic bill, these critics argue, would force the Congress to find another source of revenue, which Republicans say would inevitably result in tax increases.

Republicans listed 17 members of the 109th Congress and two new members who signed pledges not to increase taxes, implying those members voted along partisan lines.

More than 30 members were listed, Republicans say, who voted for Republican-backed small business initiatives in the 109th Congress but voted against Republican alternatives last week.