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Posted at 04:40 PM ET, 08/02/2011

The Senate debt-ceiling vote: Behind the numbers — and inside the chamber


(NICHOLAS KAMM - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
In a 74-to-26 vote, the Senate on Tuesday approved the debt-limit compromise negotiated by President Obama and congressional leaders, bringing to an end the drama that has engrossed Capitol Hill for much of the 112th Congress to date.

The debt-ceiling measure, which Obama signed into law Tuesday afternoon, was not expected to be in danger of failing in the Democratic-led Senate. But there were some lessons to be gleaned in the details of the debt-ceiling vote.

Voting “yes” on Tuesday were 28 Senate Republicans and 46 members who caucus with Democrats. Voting “no” were 19 Republicans and seven members of the Democratic caucus.

That means 87 percent of the Senate Democratic caucus supported the measure, while 60 percent of Senate Republicans did.

That’s a contrast from the House, where of the 190 Democrats voting on the debt-ceiling bill Monday, 95 voted “yes” and 95 voted “no” – a 50-50 split. Among the 240 House Republicans, 174 voted “yes” while 66 voted “no” – meaning that 73 percent of all House Republicans backed the measure.

So, looking at both parties in both chambers, those most supportive of the deal were Senate Democrats, followed by House Republicans, Senate Republicans and House Democrats.

What does that mean going forward? For all the focus on the infighting among House Republicans over the past several weeks, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) actually lost a smaller percentage of his conference on the debt-ceiling vote than did Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

It’s worth noting, however, that there was greater pressure on the leaders of the majority party in each chambers – Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) – to deliver votes than there was on the leaders of the minority parties (Pelosi and McConnell).

When it comes to the “no” votes in the Senate, most of those opposing the measure were liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans.

The seven members of the Senate Democratic caucus voting “no” were Democratic Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Tom Harkin (Iowa), Frank Lautenberg (N.J.), Robert Menendez (N.J.), Jeff Merkley (Ore.) and Ben Nelson (Neb.) as well as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who caucuses with Democrats.

With the exception of the moderate Nelson (who is running for re-election in 2012), the other “no” votes are among the Senate’s more liberal members.

The 19 Republicans voting “no” included nine freshmen: Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Dan Coats (Ind.), Dean Heller (Nev.), Ron Johnson (Wis,), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kansas), Rand Paul (Ky.), Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Pat Toomey (Pa.).

The other 10 Republican “no” votes were Sens. Saxby Chambliss (Ga.), Tom Coburn (Okla.), Jim DeMint (S.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Orrin Hatch (Utah), James Inhofe (Okla.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Dick Shelby (Ala.) and David Vitter (La.).

Notably, all three Democratic members of the Senate’s “Gang of Six” – Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) – voted in favor of the debt-ceiling compromise, while only one of the Republican members of the Gang – Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) – voted “yes.” (The two Republicans voting “no” were Coburn and Chambliss.)

Durbin voted “yes,” but appeared greatly conflicted about Tuesday’s vote. On Saturday, he told reporters that he had sat on a bench at Eastern Market a few blocks down from the Capitol for three hours as he tried to gain clarity. And even on Tuesday morning, less than three hours ahead of the vote, Durbin said in remarks on the Senate floor that he was a “yes” on the measure although “on this matter, my conscience is conflicted.”

As the Senate began voting at 12:15 p.m., Durbin was presiding over the chamber as senators mulled about or sat at their desks.

Unlike the scene in the House five days earlier, when Republican leaders were working furiously to round up votes in favor of Boehner’s debt-limit proposal, both parties’ leadership teams in the Senate appeared to be relaxed.

Reid stood at his desk chatting with Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) while McConnell, hands in his pockets, spoke with Rubio and Grassley on the Republican side of the chamber.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), the number-three Senate Democrat, sat through much of the vote at an aisle desk toward the back of the chamber that was littered with papers. Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), his party’s main vote-counter, chatted near the well with Coburn and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.). The members of the Gang of Six were dispersed around the chamber.

A downcast Durbin, presiding over the chamber, sat upright in his chair with a sheet of paper sitting on his desk. From time to time, he looked down at the paper, folded it up, and tapped his fingers a few times; then he spread the paper back out across the rostrum, clasped his hands in front of him and looked around the chamber.

As the vote wore on, several Democratic senators crossed the chamber to chat with their colleague from Illinois. Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) approached Durbin about ten minutes into the vote, and the two wore serious expressions on their faces as they chatted, Carper with his right arm draped across the desk and Durbin with his hand to his chin. A few minutes later, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) called Carper away, and Durbin dabbed at both of his eyes.

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) approached the rostrum a moment later and kneeled down to talk animatedly with Durbin for several minutes; he gave the Illinois Democrat a light pat on the back as he left. Warner – Durbin’s fellow Gang of Six member -- and Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) stopped by to chat a little while later.

The once-empty chamber was now bustling with activity. Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who had been undecided on the measure and who is running for re-election in 2012, still hadn’t cast her vote 20 minutes in. She stood at the front of the chamber, surrounded by Kyl, McConnell, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), and solemnly examined a sheet of paper on the desk in front of her, every now and then exchanging words with McConnell.

Then, with her party leader standing behind her, Snowe put up one finger to indicate that she was a “yes.”

Several minutes later, Durbin gaveled the vote closed and announced the final tally. McConnell and Reid stood at their desks – McConnell beaming, Reid staid – as Durbin read the results to a mostly-silent chamber.

The House, less than 24 hours earlier, had been quite a different picture: members had burst out into boisterous cheers and applause after the passage of the debt-ceiling measure – a vote that also saw the surprising return of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) to the Capitol for the first time since she was shot in Tucson seven months ago.

After Tuesday’s vote, Reid and McConnell met in the center aisle of the chamber and shook hands, exchanging several words before going their separate ways. DeMint – who has butted heads with the leadership on occasion due to his leading role among the Senate’s tea-party-backed insurgents – approached McConnell a moment later; the two shared a few words and a brief handshake.

At a news conference shortly after the vote – just as Obama was addressing reporters at the White House -- Senate Democratic leaders emphasized to a crowd of reporters that they were determined to return to their message about job creation.

“It’s now time for Congress to get back to our regularly-scheduled program, and that’s jobs,” Schumer said.

Durbin, too, stressed the importance of job creation -- and also noted that while he cast his vote in favor of Tuesday’s debt-ceiling compromise, he, like many Democrats, had not been thrilled to do so.

“I did not vote for this with a great deal of enthusiasm,” he said.

By  |  04:40 PM ET, 08/02/2011

 
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