Varied Explanations for GOP Defections

Posted September 24, 2011 at 3:47pm

Shortly after Rep. Dana Rohrabacher cast his vote last Wednesday, helping bring down the six-week continuing resolution, he knew he had sinned.

“I immediately began feeling guilty about it,” the California Republican said in an interview.

Rohrabacher understood the CR was the best deal the Republicans could get and was inclined to support it. But back in his district, “You have very active supporters of mine [who] are very well-intended but not, how do you say, sophisticated in their understanding of the way this process works back here,” he said. He was on the floor, dreading his tortured explanation to the activists, when he saw that the bill was going down. “I decided to take the easy way out rather than the right way out,” by voting no.

Rohrabacher said he wallowed in guilt, choosing not to defend his vote in public lest he say something he “really didn’t believe.” He told a fellow Republican of his lament, and his colleague urged him to speak out at a closed-door GOP meeting.

“I was asking myself why I voted that way and I said to myself, ‘Well, I’m being chicken-shit’,” he said he told colleagues. According to Rohrabacher, the sentiment resonated in the room.

Other lawmakers said their reasons for straying from the party line were individual.

“It was never about the bill,” said Rep. John Campbell (R-Calif.), explaining that he voted “no” the first time to protest that the CR did not contain language that would maintain the current maximum amount a home mortgage could be insured by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which is currently set at $729,750.

That “conforming loan limit” is set to expire Oct. 1, and the maximum amount that could be guaranteed by Fannie and Freddie would revert to $625,000.

“I was protesting because the conforming loan limits weren’t extended,” Campbell said.

He warned the loan limits issue could plunge real estate prices “2 to 7 percent in the next 30 days nationwide. They’ll crater, and it’ll be our fault. But, I couldn’t break through [to] the Speaker, who’s against it right now.”

But he did get GOP leaders focused on issue he feels is vital for the economy.

“I made a big stink,” Campbell said. “We’re going to be bringing this up at the leadership levels and have lots of discussions about it and hopefully hearings about it soon.”

Nonetheless, the most cited reason for GOP defections was simply the level of spending.

Rep. Jeff Landry (R-La.) said he voted no on Wednesday because he wanted to cut more spending. A six-line amendment rescinding $100 million for a Department of Energy loan guarantee program initially headed to the solar energy company Solyndra, which was added late Thursday, changed his mind.

On the House floor, Democrats argued the change was relatively minor.

“I’m sure your tea party friends will be impressed that for four-tenths of a percent, you changed your vote,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.

“Small amount of money? $100 million? I know a lot of people who go out and buy Powerball tickets when it’s $100 million,” Landry said.

It wasn’t about negotiating some ancillary policy issue for Landry, who said, “Nah, no. I don’t engage in that. It’s a process. As we come through here, we debate issues and we discuss issues and you start to recognize that sometimes you don’t get everything you want.”

Part of the process was the GOP whip team, which told Landry it would like to cut more money, too, but that “this is the reality that we’re in.”

Landry said “I might have lost my place on their Christmas card list,” but he didn’t have any criticism for his party leaders. “Look I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Kevin McCarthy, Eric Cantor and Speaker [John] Boehner. It’s a tough job there. I wouldn’t want their job. Having to deal with me is enough.”