Thursday, July 14, 2011

When Did An 80% Party Loyalty Score Become Centrist?

So, if you read other Lehigh Valley Blogs, you've probably read Bernie O'Hare's today or yesterday, and seen him and I sparring over whether or not Charlie Dent is a centrist. I'll just specifically quote Bernie to be fair here.
Rich, Voting with his party 80% of the time does not make him a conservative. Voting with Dems 80% of the time, like Murtha did, did not make him a liberal. Dent has consistently been a centrist his political career, both in Congress and on the state level. I can think of individual votes that are too conservative for me, but all in all, he has been a centrist, and has been consistently rated as such by the Congressional Journals. You can deride that magazine, but unlike you, the Congressional journal is nonpartisan and works for no political party.
Bernie goes on to say I'm auditioning for a job with a potential opponent of Charlie's, which is kind of funny, since i'm employed and quite happy. Let's stick to the main problem with what Bernie says. Bernie says that voting 80% plus of the time with your party does not make you a solidly liberal or conservative vote. He even says that Jack Murtha, who was backed by Nancy Pelosi to be Majority Leader, was not a solidly liberal vote. Come again? Isn't VOTING the JOB of a CONGRESSMAN?!? If your votes don't define your political beliefs, then what does? Your rhetoric? How nice you are? If you're crazy or not? Dent's 111th (last one) Congress party loyalty score was 86%. Now on the one hand, you may say that's really high, since John Boehner and Eric Cantor only scored a 96%. On the other hand, you might say that almost everyone was 85% and higher, so that's pretty low. Both would be true, but considering how polarized Congress is, that's more of a critique of the institution. In the 110th, he was an 85% voter. In the 109th, or his freshman term, Dent was a 91% voter with his party. In the current House, Dent is an 84% vote for his party. By contrast, Mark Critz (D-Johnstown) is a 77% voter, Jason Altmire (D-Allegheny and 'burbs) is a 53% voter, Mike Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks) is a 79% voter, Jim Gerlach  (R-Berks, Chester) is an 83% voter, Scott Garrett (R-Warren, across the river) is an 89% voter, and Tim Holden (D-Dauphin, Berks, Lebanon, Schuylkill) is a 71% voter. Nancy Pelosi is a 95% voter, Eric Cantor is a 94% voter, and John Boehner is a 100% voter. Pat Toomey was an 89% (99-2000), 92% (01-02), and 91% (03-04) voter in his three House terms.

Your votes define your actual politics. Bernie doesn't quite seem to want to grasp that, which is fine I guess, because he's not alone. The National Journal made the same mistake, calling Dent a "centrist" on the basis of supporting earmarks and stem cell research. I guess all those votes on Iraq, taxes, deficits, and health care don't count. To be fair to the NJ, the Morning Call, his own paper, says he "hugs the center." Everyone of these sources is repeating the same talking point- that the Congressman is a "centrist," and yet there is little evidence to support that. Just because someone says something doesn't make it so.

Here's the bottom line: there's really not many true "centrists" left in Congress. The House is a two party place, and members, in general, vote with their party. While one may vote 75%, and another 95%, the difference is minor in the grand scheme. There are very, very few who fall under 75% in voting with their party. Charlie Dent isn't more guilty than most of this, but he's also no different. His voting record is remarkably similar to that of Pat Toomey's in their time in Congress, at least by the percentages. Does this mean he's as far right as Pat? Rhetorically, no. Voting wise? Yes. Votes matter. It's what a Congressman does. On votes, Charlie Dent is a solid Republican.

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