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Voting With Pelosi

October 6, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

Hopefully one of the effects of easier access to government information and the kind of detailed, independent reporting that you can get on the internet is that when people hear politicians called out on their voting record, they’re less willing to just accept what they hear as a fact. If you’ve spent any time looking at congressional vote data or reading quality blogs on Congress, you’d know that nothing is ever straight-forward.

Senators can vote in favor of procedural motions that set a bill up for passage and then vote against the actual passage of the bill just so they can claim they opposed it. Representatives can vote to defund the Iraq war and then moments later vote in favor of more war funding. The minority party can force votes on issues like child pornography and immigration in order to kill a totally unrelated bill. This stuff happens all the time, and it serves no substantive purpose other than to confuse us voters.

The National Republican Congressional Committee is running a new series of ads against moderate Democrats in districts they hope to win in November. Their strategy: link the Democrats to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D, CA-8].

Frank Kratovil [D, MD-1] wants you to think he’s independent, but he voted to make Nancy Pelosi speaker and voted with Pelosi 84 percent of the time,” one ad states, citing the Washington Post’s vote database as its source.

First off, the claim is simply not true. Kratovil votes with most Democrats 84% of the time, but he votes with Nancy Pelosi much less often than that.

But enough wit the nitpicking. The real problem with the 84% claim is that about 50% of the votes factored into that number are on things like naming post offices, honoring famous people, and congratulating sports teams. The Republican Leader, Rep. John Boehner [R, OH-8], voted for this stuff too. Perhaps Congress shouldn’t be voting on this stuff, but, since they are, the fact that Kratovil votes with most Democrats on these bills probably isn’t too big of a deal to most of his constituents.

The fact is, when you take out all the fluff legislation on naming post offices and such, the data shows that Kratovil votes with Pelosi about 66 percent of the time. How do I know this? Because we have built a tool on OpenCongress that compares the voting records of any two members of Congress on all substantive legislation. It excludes all non-binding resolutions and includes all important amendment votes. (From any senator or reprsentative page on OC, just scroll down about half way and you’ll see the option to “compare votes” to any other member of Congress.)

Using this view you can start to get some actually meaningful information about how members of Congress have voted. For example, you can see that Kratovil bucked Pelosi and the majority of Democrats over the past couple years by voting against health care reform, against the stimulus bill, against setting a withdrawal timeline from Afghanistan, and in favor of ending TARP. Those are some immensely important votes, and any vote analysis that doesn’t highlight votes like those over votes on naming post offices belies the true history of what’s been happening in Congress.

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