The Feckless Four

Friday, May 5, 2006

THERE WAS an amazing, albeit brief, moment on the House floor Wednesday when it looked as if good government might trump party loyalty. As a prelude to the ultimate vote on the sham measure that Republicans were parading as lobbying reform, lawmakers were voting on a "motion to recommit with instructions," parliamentary-speak for supporting real change in the form of an alternative Democratic bill. Sixteen brave Republicans broke with their party to support true reform -- the most GOP votes in favor of such a Democratic motion during the entire 109th Congress.

It would have been enough, too -- except that four Democrats broke ranks the other way to oppose their party's motion and doom any chance of passing an effective bill. The Feckless Four are Reps. Rick Boucher (Va.), Michael E. Capuano (Mass.), John P. Murtha (Pa.) and Martin O. Sabo (Minn.). With their votes against, the motion lost 216 to 213. In an e-mail, Mr. Sabo told us that the proposed changes "have the potential to do more harm than good in conducting the people's business in Congress." A spokesman for Mr. Capuano said he "felt in the final analysis that neither bill really got to what he sees as the root of the problem" -- flaws in the campaign finance system. Yes, the campaign finance system needs overhaul, but this is like saying it makes no sense to patch a hole in your roof because the entire house should be renovated. The other two did not respond to queries.

When it came to the final vote on the GOP proposal, the Feckless Four voted against the GOP bill, but eight other Democrats voted for it, and the measure passed, 217 to 213. These eight at least had some excuse: an argument that some lobbying reform is better than none and, more persuasively, a fear of facing 30-second ads that attacked them for voting against reform. Many of them are in close races, and three are freshmen, always an endangered species. Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), one of the freshmen, pointed to the provision to strip convicted lawmakers of their pensions.

Here's the honor roll of Republicans who voted for the Democratic motion: Charles Bass (N.H.), Jeb Bradley (N.H.), Michael N. Castle (Del.), Steve Chabot (Ohio), Michael G. Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Jim Gerlach (Pa.), Mark Green (Wis.), Nancy L. Johnson (Conn.), Walter B. Jones Jr. (N.C.), Jim Leach (Iowa), Frank LoBiondo (N.J.), Todd R. Platts (Pa.), Jim Ramstad (Minn.), Christopher Shays (Conn.), Rob Simmons (Conn.) and Heather A. Wilson (N.M.).

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