Politics & Policy

Pelosi’s Suicide Squad

Three of these flip-flopping Dems have announced their retirements; voters may retire the other six.

Over the weekend, Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally acknowledged that, for many of the House members whose votes she needs, casting a vote for Obama’s health-care bill would effectively doom them in November. But, for those faced with that difficult choice, Pelosi thinks the right call is to defy their constituents and vote for a bill their districts deeply dislike, even if it guarantees defeat this fall. “We’re not here just to self-perpetuate our service in Congress. . . . We’re here to do the job for the American people.”

So far, nine House Democrats are hearing the call . . . for political suicide.

The Associated Press did a head-count and concluded that “at least 10 of the 39 Democrats — or their spokesmen — either declined to state their positions or said they were undecided about the revised legislation, making them likely targets for intense wooing by Pelosi and Obama. Three of them — Brian Baird of Washington, Bart Gordon of Tennessee and John Tanner of Tennessee — are not seeking reelection this fall. The others are Rick Boucher of Virginia, Suzanne Kosmas of Florida, Frank Kratovil of Maryland, Michael McMahon of New York, Walt Minnick of Idaho, Scott Murphy of New York and Glenn Nye of Virginia. Several lawmakers’ offices did not reply to the AP queries.” After the AP article appeared, Minnick quickly issued a statement that he wasn’t willing to vote “yes.”

Here are the six non-retiring members who previously followed their constituents by voting “no” but who now are apparently uninterested in continuing their service in Congress and are instead contemplating joining Pelosi’s Suicide Squad:

‐ Rick Boucher of Virginia: Boucher had been looking at a tough election even in the absence of a top-tier GOP challenger. In November, Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob McDonnell carried 66 percent of the vote in Boucher’s district, even though McDonnell’s Democratic opponent, Creigh Deeds, is from the neighboring 6th district and was supposed to run stronger in western Virginia than the average member of his party. Boucher’s chances dipped even further when the National Republican Congressional Committee got its man: Morgan Griffith, currently majority leader in the Virginia House of Delegates.

In February, the Washington Post wrote, “Boucher, a 14-term incumbent who hasn’t faced a strong challenger since the Reagan years, is in peril, prompting him to shift into campaign mode months earlier than usual and before Republicans have chosen his opponent.”

Isaac Wood, House-race editor for UVA professor Larry Sabato’s Center for Politics, recently moved this seat from “safe” Democrat to “leans” Democrat: “Boucher’s district is coal country, comprised of the entire southwestern tip of Virginia and bordered by West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina. While Boucher voted against the health care bill, his vote for cap-and-trade is already causing him headaches.”

The early line was that his cap-and-trade vote and Griffith’s challenge made for a tough, but survivable, election. If he votes in favor of health-care reform, Griffith will have an easy case to make on quite favorable terrain.

‐ Suzanne Kosmas of Florida: Her seat was already rated a “toss-up” by Stuart Rothenberg and Sabato’s Crystal Ball. Republicans currently lead both statewide races in Florida — the governor’s race between Bill McCollum and Alex Sink as well as the Senate race between either Charlie Crist or Marco Rubio and Kendrick Meek. That means Kosmas can’t count on any help from the top of the ticket. She represents a district where McCain won by two points and Bush won by ten.

She’s another House Democrat who’s “trying to avoid the liberal label,” but after dodging angry crowds in her district and holding only a teletown hall last summer, she laid out her views on health care to the editors of the Orlando Sentinel in language that prompted them to conclude she views the issue “like a kid giving her wish list to Santa, oblivious to the fact her family is $11.4 trillion in debt.”

When the time came to vote on the House version, she declared, “These reforms might be in vain if we don’t take significant steps to rein in rising costs, and the House bill simply does not do enough to address this issue.” It will be interesting to see how she can justify a claim that the newer bill improves upon her previous key criteria, given that it pushes tax increases farther off.

Of course, perhaps Suzanne Kosmas sees her time in Congress as short no matter how she votes. According to one estimate, 23,000 workers at and around Kennedy Space Center will lose their jobs because of shuttle retirements and the recent proposal to cancel the development of new rockets and spacecraft. Apparently, she’s already giving off the scent of vulnerability; there are no fewer than twelve Republicans running against her.

‐ Frank Kratovil of Maryland: Few lawmakers in Congress resemble a historical accident more than Kratovil, a Democrat who won by fewer than 3,000 votes the same year John McCain won his rural, Chesapeake Bay–hugging district 59 percent to 40 percent; Bush won the district 62 percent to 36 percent in 2004. The previous congressman, Republican Wayne Gilchrest, lost his 2008 primary, then turned around and endorsed Kratovil over Republican Andy Harris, even actively campaigning for the Democrat. For this reason, Kratovil arrived in Washington with a big NRCC bull’s-eye on his back. He hasn’t helped himself by voting for the stimulus and cap-and-trade.

Kratovil’s district has had plenty of tea-party protests, and at one point Kratovil was hanged in effigy. Republican Andy Harris is preparing for a rematch, and his internal polls showed Kratovil down by 13 at one point, with only 29 percent saying he deserved another term. Kratovil too declared the House version too big and costly; having argued for the importance of those criteria, it’s hard to see an easy justification for a vote in favor of the Obama bill.

‐ Michael McMahon of New York: Most House incumbents start sweating if they have one opponent who’s raised a healthy six figures after a few months; McMahon has two, Michael Allegretti and Mike Grimm. He’s another freshman representing a district that McCain won by two points and Bush by ten, in his case in Staten Island. His previous objections included that “the bill being debated costs over $1 trillion. It includes a tax increase that is not indexed to inflation. Medicare Advantage, which serves approximately 40 percent of my seniors on Medicare, would be cut dramatically, leading to significant monthly average premium increases of $130 per person per month.”

‐ Scott Murphy of New York: One of the House’s newest members, Murphy won a hard-fought special election in a nominally Republican district, beating Jim Tedisco by about 700 votes out of 160,000 cast. This summer, Murphy was accused of dodging his constituents.

When it came time to vote on the House version, he offered a fairly explicit explanation for his opposition: “I have consistently said that any bill that Congress passes must curb costs and keep health care affordable in the long term. During these difficult economic times, an unacceptably high price tag will stress our already overstretched federal budget and place even more burdens on our hard-working individuals, families, and small businesses. We need to fix the system now, and not put off the hard choices for another generation. Furthermore, I am deeply frustrated by the last-minute addition of over $50 billion in taxes on the two largest private employers in the 20th district: medical device manufacturers and paper mills.”

Perhaps he now thinks that his district’s medical-device manufacturers can take the hit.

‐ Glenn Nye of Virginia: This freshman represents a district where Bush beat Kerry by 16 percentage points, Obama won by two, and McDonnell won by 24. In a conservative-leaning district, Nye has had to pitch himself as an independent; in the first six months of this Congress, he was among the top ten most independent Democrats, voting against his party on the budget and cap-and-trade, and declaring the health-care bill unacceptable. He pointed to “costs to small businesses and cuts to hospitals as primary reasons the bill will not get his support. Though he says the latest version of the bill does achieve many health-care reform goals, he believes it will not reduce the cost of health care for families, taxpayers and small businesses.”

Nye has already had an embarrassing gaffe, sending out contradictory letters to constituents, pledging to both support and oppose cap-and-trade legislation.

No fewer than six Republicans are running against Nye; the best-financed is Scott Rigell, who founded a chain of auto dealerships in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake.

‐ The retirees: Bart Gordon once considered himself pro-life, but, considering that he’s already sold out those principles in committee, he may be at peace with ensuring that one of his final votes in Congress is to guarantee nationwide taxpayer funding for abortions. His fellow Blue Dog John Tanner has the opportunity to throw away a lifetime ACU rating of 41.49 and go down as one of the key votes in ensuring a government takeover of one-sixth of the economy. Only Brian Baird remembered to leave the door open for himself as he was explaining his original vote in opposition to the health-care bill, suggesting he might be open to persuasion: “For these reasons, until more information is available on premium estimates and Medicare impacts, I will vote against the legislation in its current form. . . . I will wait to make a decision on final legislation until this critical information becomes available and when the House and Senate together produce one bill.”

Will these nine lawmakers ultimately sign up for Pelosi’s Suicide Squad? Baird seems near-certain, and the other eight have had two opportunities to shut the door on that option. (Minnick, obviously, realized that a “yes” vote would doom him in Idaho.) But life is full of opportunities when you’re an important Democrat who’s willing to commit political suicide and the president is increasingly desperate. If a Cornhusker can get a kickback, any one of these lawmakers could hit the lottery.

Jim Geraghty writes the Campaign Spot for NRO.

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