Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Politics of Senate's Final CRomnibus Vote

On December 13th, 2014, with hours to spare before another government shutdown, HR 83, otherwise known as the CRomnibus (continuing resolutions combined with comprehensive, large-scale spending in an omnibus bill) passed with a bipartisan majority in the US Senate.

The bipartisan opposition to the bill is also telling, however, and offers the American public a deeper peek on the contour of federal politics, especially along budget issues and party lines, for the next two years.

From this link, the US Senate clerk's office provided the final roll call vote on HR 83:

Grouped By Vote Position
YEAs ---56
Alexander (R-TN)
Ayotte (R-NH)
Baldwin (D-WI)
Barrasso (R-WY)
Begich (D-AK)
Bennet (D-CO)
Blunt (R-MO)
Boozman (R-AR)
Burr (R-NC)
Cardin (D-MD)
Carper (D-DE)
Casey (D-PA)
Coats (R-IN)
Cochran (R-MS)
Collins (R-ME)
Coons (D-DE)
Cornyn (R-TX)
Donnelly (D-IN)
Durbin (D-IL)
Enzi (R-WY)
Fischer (R-NE)
Graham (R-SC)
Hagan (D-NC)
Hatch (R-UT)
Heinrich (D-NM)
Heitkamp (D-ND)
Hoeven (R-ND)
Isakson (R-GA)
Johanns (R-NE)
Johnson (D-SD)
Kaine (D-VA)
King (I-ME)
Kirk (R-IL)
Landrieu (D-LA)
Leahy (D-VT)
McConnell (R-KY)
Mikulski (D-MD)
Murkowski (R-AK)
Murphy (D-CT)
Murray (D-WA)
Nelson (D-FL)
Pryor (D-AR)
Reid (D-NV)
Roberts (R-KS)
Rockefeller (D-WV)
Schatz (D-HI)
Schumer (D-NY)
Shaheen (D-NH)
Stabenow (D-MI)
Thune (R-SD)
Toomey (R-PA)
Udall (D-CO)
Udall (D-NM)
Walsh (D-MT)
Warner (D-VA)
Wicker (R-MS)

NAYs ---40
Blumenthal (D-CT)
Booker (D-NJ)
Boxer (D-CA)
Brown (D-OH)
Cantwell (D-WA)
Corker (R-TN)
Crapo (R-ID)
Cruz (R-TX)
Flake (R-AZ)
Franken (D-MN)
Gillibrand (D-NY)
Grassley (R-IA)
Harkin (D-IA)
Heller (R-NV)
Hirono (D-HI)
Johnson (R-WI)
Klobuchar (D-MN)
Lee (R-UT)
Levin (D-MI)
Manchin (D-WV)
Markey (D-MA)
McCain (R-AZ)
McCaskill (D-MO)
Menendez (D-NJ)
Merkley (D-OR)
Moran (R-KS)
Paul (R-KY)
Portman (R-OH)
Reed (D-RI)
Risch (R-ID)
Rubio (R-FL)
Sanders (I-VT)
Scott (R-SC)
Sessions (R-AL)
Shelby (R-AL)
Tester (D-MT)
Vitter (R-LA)
Warren (D-MA)
Whitehouse (D-RI)
Wyden (D-OR)
Not Voting - 4
       Chambliss (R-GA)                    
       Coburn (R-OK)
Feinstein (D-CA)
Inhofe (R-OK)
Why did the votes end up the way they did?

Yea Votes

Scanning the Yea votes, among their numbers are the US Senators up for reelection in 2016. Seeking to engage the middle as well as run away from the hyperpartisan, do-nothing stigma of the current Congress, blue-state Republicans like Mark Kirk of Illinois and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, along with Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire want to augment their capacity to work with Republicans and budget responsibly. Red-state senators like Mike Bennett of Colorado and Senate Majority (soon to be Minority) Leader Harry Reid may want to show themselves as pragmatic legislators deserving reelection, too.

US Senator Michael Bennett (D-Colorado)

Even though political critics argue that US Senators are immune to electoral challenges or threats from constituents because of their extended, six-year terms, partisan votes requiring a strong stance on either side force senators to gauge voter perception (and campaign reception) with every vote.

US Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Nay Votes

Looking over the Nay votes, we find red-state Democrats buffing their fiscal restraint, anti-Washington credentials for future campaigns. In 2012, Claire McCaskill won her seat in conservative Missouri because of a flawed candidate, as did Joe Donnelly of Indiana (who voted Yea).

US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts)
(Credit: Tim Pearce)

We also find a number of potential presidential candidates for 2016. Republicans Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Democrat Elizabeth Warren voted no. Looking ahead to beating primary opponents and shoring up their party base, these senators can say "I voted against the business-as-usual DC two-step. I refused to pass on legislation which I had not read, which lobbyists had written, and which President Obama shoved and cajoled to his desk through backroom deals and last-minute telephone calls."

Instead of discouraging office-seeking in federal legislators, perhaps voters should encourage presidential ambitions in their representatives. They would vote like principled leaders, instead of rent-seeking partisans looking for easy reelection.

Votes Among Retiring/Losing Senators

Retiring progressive liberals Tom Harkin of Iowa and Carl Levin of Michigan voted Nay. Other senators leaving the chamber voted for the CRomnibus. Pork-laden, business-as-usual legislation will not cost them anything, since they are not running for reelection. The five senators unseated in 2014 (Begich, Hagan, Landrieu, Pryor, Udall) all voted for the bill. Perhaps their vote was a last act of defiance to their states, who had rejected them.

Surprising Nay Votes

Besides the three outstanding Presidential contenders in waiting, the  wider yet odd assortment of conservatives and liberals voting together against a spending bill should make us smile, or shake our heads in wonder. This temporary tag-team of progressive and conservative lawmakers emerged during the 2011 debt-ceiling debate/debacle, as well.

The following Republicans from the same state voted Nay:

Alabama's US Senators Sessions (above) and Shelby (below)

Alabama:Sessions (R-AL), NayShelby (R-AL), Nay

Arizona:Flake (R-AZ), NayMcCain (R-AZ), Nay

Idaho:Crapo (R-ID), NayRisch (R-ID), Nay

What do these three sets of Senators have in Common? Arizona and Alabama are border states, where residents are expecting their leaders to control immigration, even though Arizona's senators supported amnesty legislation in 2013. Idaho and Alabama are two of the most conservative states in the Union, where Senator Sessions won reelection without a contest, since the Alabama Democratic Party is all but defunct, and did not bother to field a challenger. Deeply conservative senators voted with heavily liberal ones.

The following Democrats from the same state voted Nay:

Massachusetts:Markey (D-MA), NayWarren (D-MA), Nay

Minnesota:Franken (D-MN), NayKlobuchar (D-MN), Nay

New Jersey:Booker (D-NJ), NayMenendez (D-NJ), Nay

Oregon:Merkley (D-OR), NayWyden (D-OR), Nay

Rhode Island's US Senators Jack Reed (left) and Sheldon Whitehouse (right)
Rhode Island:Reed (D-RI), NayWhitehouse (D-RI), Nay

Why did these Democrats vote against the bill? Progressives from very liberal, blue states, they opposed the Wall Street bailouts-to-be, which were in fact the loosening of the Dodd-Frank restrictions hurting small banks. They also opposed the lifting of campaign spending caps. Inadvertently, these legislators worked closely with conservative, Tea Party affiliates from red states. By extension, they went along with permitting a potential government shut-down.


If fiscal hawks want limited government, if Tea Party activists want to bring Congress to a non-spending standstill, they might want to invest not only in promoting conservative candidates in already conservative states, as usual, but also pushing progressive candidates in deeply liberal states, too. Tea Party candidates may never be competitive in New England or Coastal states, but the outcomes of votes from hyperpartisan progressives, which stop covert budget deals, do align with limited government, individual liberty, and constitutional rule.

Furthermore, the third value of Tea Party insurgents, touching respect for the final authority of the US Constitution, is the firmest guarantee for the prior two (limited government, individual liberty). The Framers, the Founding Fathers envisioned a federal government filled with checks and balances, in which the bright ambitions of men (and women) would clash and neutralize each other, then nullify the growth and invasion of the federal government. The final Nay votes combining conservative and progressive opposition bear out the intentions of the Constitution's architects.


  1. Hi! Can you please credit the photo of Elizabeth Warren here to Tim Pierce, with a link to the original image at https://www.flickr.com/photos/qwrrty/8152000142/ ? Thanks :-)

    1. Absolutely! Thanks for letting me know! I think that it is a great photo, and I hope to see Elizabeth Warren win the Democratic Nomination in 2016.