It’s every Republican for himself in the House these days. A quick check of vote counts during the opening salvo of the Democrats’ 100-hour legislative blitz reveals droves of GOP defections. In the words of one representative: “Times have changed. I don’t want to be someone who they say is too stubborn to change too.”
House Republican leaders, who confidently predicted they would drive a wedge through the new Democratic majority, have found their own party splintering, with Republican lawmakers siding with Democrats in droves on the House’s opening legislative blitz.
Freed from the pressures of being the majority and from the heavy hand of former leaders, including retired representative Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), many back-bench Republicans are showing themselves to be more moderate than their conservative leadership and increasingly mindful of shifting voter sentiment. The closest vote last week—Friday’s push to require the federal government to negotiate lower drug prices for Medicare—pulled 24 Republicans. The Democrats’ homeland security bill attracted 68 Republicans, the minimum wage increase 82.
“You’re freer to vote your conscience,” said Rep. Jo Anne Emerson (R-Mo.), who received an 88 percent voting record from the American Conservative Union in 2005 but has so far sided with Democrats on new budget rules, Medicare prescription-drug negotiations, raising the minimum wage and funding stem cell research. “Or, really, I feel free to represent my constituents exactly as they want me to be.”
“Times have changed. I don’t want to be someone who they say is too stubborn to change too,” said Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.), whose 92 percent conservative rating did not stop him from voting with Democrats on the homeland security and minimum-wage bills.