The notorious bank robber Willie Sutton famously explained why he did what he did with the pithy phrase, “because that’s where the money is.” Politicians often cast their votes with a similar frame of mind: They support or oppose bills based on their calculations of where the votes are. So what can we learn from yesterday’s House vote on the tax deal?
On the Republican side, we see that ambitious GOP pols think GOP primary votes are to be found among the tea-party right. Virtually all of the current House Republicans who are rumored to be looking at a statewide or national race in 2012–Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Denny Rehberg (Mont.), Pete Hoekstra (Mich.), Connie Mack (Fla.), Jim Jordan (Ohio), Mike Pence (Ind.) and Michele Bachmann (Minn.)–voted no. Clearly this insulates them from challenges to their right or helps them mobilize support on the right for their respective bids.
On the Democratic side, the no votes are visual testament to the party’s base. That base is now among high- income educated voters (“gentry liberals,” in the eloquent parlance of my AEI colleague, Michael Barone) and racial minorities. Look at the Pacific coast–from Seattle in the north to Monterey in the south, every Democrat whose district touches the coast and contains US highway 101 (the west-coast version of US 1) voted no. In the Los Angeles area, all but one of the Democratic congressmen representing minority districts voted no. In New England, 15 of 22 Democrats voted no; in New York City, nine of 13 voted no. Two-thirds of the Congressional Black Caucus voted no as well.
Democrats who represent (or were just defeated in) swing districts overwhelmingly voted yes. Fifty six of the Democrats representing a House district where he or she either lost or was reelected very narrowly voted yes; only eleven voted no. Others who represent GOP-leaning areas but won with 55 percent or more, such as Dan Boren and Tim Holden, also voted yes, and still others who won tough reelections by a close but comfortable margin followed suit.
The bottom line: Politicos calculate that important elements of both party bases are unhappy with the compromise, but that the vast American middle wants it.
Henry Olsen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.