The Risks of Lockstep Voting

Ron Brownstein of the National Journal points out something interesting: Republican members of Congress who got elected in Democratic districts aren't voting like people whose jobs are tenuous; they've voting like, well, like any other Republican, at least on environmental issues:

In February, the House voted to block pending EPA regulations limiting emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases linked to global climate change; even the GOP members from districts that backed Obama in 2008 voted 59-2 for the bill. (Those were the only dissenting Republican votes.) In April, every voting House Republican (including all 61 from Obama districts) opted to overturn EPA's scientific finding that climate change posed a public-health threat. Two weeks ago, the Obama-district Republicans voted 56-4 to shelve EPA rules reducing pollution from coal-fired power plants; the 174 other GOP members who voted all backed the measure. Republicans are expected to produce similar numbers for this week's votes on cement plants and boilers.

In coalescing behind these measures, House Republicans from Democratic-leaning areas are behaving very differently from their mirror image: As many as 20 House Democrats, mostly from Republican-leaning areas, have usually broken with their party to support the antiregulatory proposals. The swing-district Republicans, many of them representing communities where hybrids outnumber pickups, are also placing a very different bet than the GOP lawmakers who represented such areas in the 1990s.

This is very different behavior from what you see in Democratic members representing Republican districts not just on the environment but on a wide array of issues. Those members live in perpetual fear of angering their constituents, lest those constituents one day wake up and say, "Wait a minute -- my congressman is a Democrat?" So they support the Republican position on most controversial votes, basically hoping no one will take too much notice of them until Election Day.

But these new Republican members obviously don't feel the same way. Why? The best explanation is probably that they're conservative true believers who would never have gotten elected where they did had they not had the good fortune to run in a year when there was a Republican wave.
This is a common mistake legislators make, which goes something like this: We got elected, therefore the public is supportive of every last thing on our agenda.

They may be calculating that the only thing that will matter in 2012 is the economy, so they can be as conservative as they like on everything else. But there's going to be a competing narrative in 2012, one about Republicans in Congress undermining the country with their radical agenda. In a lot of places, that won't be persuasive. But if you're a Republican representing a Democratic district, you ought to be concerned when they start airing ads saying, "Right-wing Republican Congressman Joe Blow voted to let more pollution into the air," with pictures of tow-headed kids coughing uncontrollably. As of now, those Republicans are acting like they're invulnerable. But I wouldn't bet on it if I were them.

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