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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Fiscal Cliff Vote: What the House Tally Says

Democrats will be arguing about President Obama’s strategy in negotiating the fiscal cliff deal for months, and there is a lot to criticize from all points on the Democratic spectrum. Senate passage of the compromise was predictable enough. But one day out, it’s worth looking at the breakdown of the votes in the House of Representatives to fairly evaluate the white house and Democratic strategy.
The New York Times has the complete House roll call, along with a good roll-over map. The final House vote was 257-167. In all, 172 Democrats and 85 Republicans voted for the bill. In opposition were 16 Democrats and 151 Republicans.
Among Republicans Speaker Boehner and Rep. Ryan supported the compromise, with Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other GOP “leaders” opposing it.
The 16 Dems who opposed the compromise included a few strong progressives, who objected on principle to elements of the compromise and a small group of remaining Blue Dogs who couldn’t accept any tax hikes. Eight members did not vote, for varying reasons, some personal. (e.g. Liberal stalwart Rep. John Lewis’s wife, Lilian just died). Of course, most of the ‘Yes’ votes included strong progressives, who disliked elements of the deal, but held their noses and took one for the team. Here’s the Democratic breakdown of the “no” votes, according to the Washington Post:

The 16 Democrats voting no split between the liberal and the moderate. More liberal Reps. Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Earl Blumenauer (Ore.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Rosa DeLauro (Conn.), Jim McDermott (Wash.), Brad Miller (N.C.), Jim Moran (Va.), Bobby Scott (Va.), Pete Visclosky (Ind.) voted no. But they were joined by moderate-to-conservative Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Jim Cooper (Tenn.), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Collin Peterson (Minn.), Kurt Schrader (Ore.) and Adam Smith (Wash.).

Without getting into the elements of the deal and the specific concerns of the members who voted, the tally reflects a fairly comfy pillow of 39 more votes than were needed for passage, since 218 votes were needed to pass the compromise. From a purely bipartisan standpoint, the bigger the ‘pillow,’ the better the compromise. From a progressive perspective, the smaller the margin, the better the indication that “the best possible deal” has been negotiated.
Of course it can be argued, as many do, that the negotiating strategy was flawed from the get-go, so the tally on this vote means little with respect to all of the more optimistic ‘might-have-been’ scenarios. Not surprisingly, much of the progressive critique falls into the ‘Obama-gave-away-the-store-too-early’ category. See here, here, here and here, for example.
The vote tally reflects a pretty good measure of tea party strength in the House. It appears that there are 151 unrepentant tea party votes in the House. These Republicans are unfazed by national economic concerns and narrowly focused on what right-wing activists in their district want. Most of them are well-protected by gerrymandered districts. These are the obstructionists Dems have to work around to get any legislation passed until the new congress is seated in January, 2015.
From my perch, maybe the President could have hung a little tougher. But it was a tough call with all of the bluffing and bluster going on to determine how many Republicans were running scared enough to be persuadable.
We Dems must have our hour of self-flagellation before we can move on to the next struggle. But it would be folly to overlook our party’s failure to mobilize a good voter turnout in 2010 as a root cause of the fix we’re in now. Instead of hand-wringing about the deal we are going to have to live with, let’s apply what we have learned in this vote and in our successful 2012 voter mobilization — to win back control of the House in 2014.

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