Progressive Budget Vote Could Haunt Vulnerable Dems

by Betsy Woodruff

Three House Democrats could lose their seats in 2014 thanks to taking a politically fraught vote that basically wrote the NRCC’s playbook. At issue is the House Progressive Caucus’s budget, a proposal that gets a vote every year, but not to an especially impressive showing — in 2013, House minority leader Nancy Pelosi voted against it, along with the majority of her caucus. That’s because it includes lots of politically radioactive provisions, including a carbon tax, a financial-transaction tax, and a public option for health care. Democrats in competitive seats typically don’t vote for it; rather, it lets congressional progressives burnish their left-wing bona fides against potential primary challengers. But three vulnerable House Democrats voted for it in March of 2013, and National Republican Congressional Committee spokesmen tell NRO that highlighting this vote is a key part of their strategy to flip those seats.

Nick Rahall of West Virginia, John Tierney of Massachusetts, and Rick Nolan of Minnesota all voted for the plan. They’re each vulnerable for different reasons; Tierney’s family has been plagued by House of Cards–esque scandals, Rahall has the unenviable position of being a Democrat in increasingly red West Virginia, and Nolan’s contest is one of the races the NRCC is most optimistic about winning.

Rahall is already under fire for the vote because of provisions in the budget that seem particularly unfriendly to West Virginia. The budget would levy a $25 per ton tax on carbon emissions, which would be a tough hit on the state’s coal industry. More than 15,000 of Rahall’s constituents work in the coal industry, so the attack ads basically write themselves. The American Energy Alliance last month aired attack ads for two weeks highlighting Rahall’s vote on the budget. And Ian Prior of the NRCC tells me national Republicans will keep up that theme.

So it’s seems like an unfortunate vote for Rahall. And it shouldn’t help Tierney, either. The Massachusetts Democrat squeaked out a victory by 1.2 percent in 2012 — and that’s when he was down-ballot from Obama and Elizabeth Warren. He’ll face the same Republican opponent this time (Richard Tisei, former minority leader of the Massachusetts Senate; I profiled him here), as well as a competitive primary challenger. And his support for the Progressive Caucus’s budget could be an albatross around his neck, as it has a number of provisions that can’t play well in the Boston suburbs. The financial industry is one of Massachusetts’ biggest, and the budget Tierney supported would hit it pretty hard. Among its provisions are a financial- transactions tax, the capping of itemized deductions, and taxing capital gains as ordinary income. The NRCC made a fake campaign website for Tierney,, that highlights his family’s scandals and his support for the budget.

They can use a similar strategy with Nolan in Minnesota. The proposal eliminates all agriculture subsidies. As a point of reference, Minnesota received more than $287 million in 2012 in corn subsidies alone. The budget’s inclusion of a financial-transactions tax and its shift to taxing capital gains as ordinary income would take a hit on union pensions, which are invested in Wall Street. Unions have a significant presence in Nolan’s district, so Alleigh Marré of the NRCC says her group expects this to be a natural line of attack.

So by voting with a minority of their Democratic colleagues, this trifecta of Congressmen may have made themselves even more vulnerable.


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