News & Politics

Just the Votes, Ma'am

If Americans knew precisely how the two parties vote on ideological bills like CAFTA and gun control, they could reshape politics. Too bad the parties -- much less the media -- won't tell them.
I wrote Howard Dean a couple of months ago. I pointed out that too many Americans lack an understanding of the concrete differences between the political parties. They get their information from sound bites and party spin machines. I inquired whether the Democratic National Committee might begin posting information on its websites.

Dean never responded. He's a busy man. Then I saw him interviewed on the Daily Show. Three times an increasingly exasperated Jon Stewart asked Dean to identify specific policy differences between Democrats and Republicans. Dean demurred.

The day after the House of Representatives approved the energy bill the Congressional reporter of the New York Times wrote, "Despite objections that the energy plan was flawed ... the measure was approved on a bipartisan 275-to-156 vote."

Bipartisan? Sixty-two percent of House Democrats voted against the bill. Eighty-five percent of Republicans voted in favor.

On the local level, my hometown newspaper, the Minneapolis Star Tribune recently headlined a front page story, "Minnesota's GOP-led House opts to raise state's minimum wage." The reporter informed us the bill passed by an 84-50 margin. Any reader would reasonably infer that it too had bipartisan support. Wrong again. Democrats voted in favor, 66-0. Republicans voted against, 50-18.

A few days ago, after the heartbreakingly close defeat on the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), my friend Jonathan Tasini wrote a column asking us to "spank" the 15 House Democrats who voted for passage. We should. But his widely disseminated column was not tempered by any commentator pointing out that 93 percent of Democrats voted against CAFTA; 80 percent of Republicans voted in favor.

Our political parties don't want us to know how they vote on specific issues. And our media don't want to tell us how they vote.

This is bewildering and distressing, and something should be done about it. In a two party system, information about how each party voted should be in every wrap-up story. Yet only the Associated Press, to its credit, commonly includes roll call votes. And newspapers that carry AP stories rarely include that part of the feed.

The good news is that such information is readily available at the Thomas webpage. The House of Representatives facilitates the task by aggregating the party votes on every amendment and bill. The Senate makes it a wee bit harder by only listing the ayes and noes by individual Senator. But the Senator's party affiliation is noted and one can easily do the arithmetic.

At the state level the information requires a little more legwork, but it's still not rocket science or heavy lifting.

Given the need to know how our parties vote, as parties, and the relative ease of gaining that knowledge, might not the progressive media, perhaps in combination with state organizations, make this information available? We would all be enriched by such an initiative.

Because of the way Congressional bills (and sometimes state bills) are put together, examining the voting on a specific amendment may be far more enlightening than the vote on the final bill.

For example, in June the appropriations bill for Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies was approved by the truly bipartisan vote of 408-18. But the voting on an amendment that would have initiated country of origin labeling for meat and other products was anything but bipartisan. The amendment failed with Republicans voting against 188-41 and Democrats voting in favor, 145-52.

A Transportation bill was overwhelmingly approved in late July. Again, the final vote was bipartisan, 417-9. But an amendment to allow toll lanes on federally funded highways was more revealing about the philosophical differences between the two parties. Republicans voted 134-92 in favor; Democrats voted 172-21 against.

In late July, a gun bill exempting gun sellers from lawsuits passed the Senate. An amendment requiring the installation of a child safety lock when a handgun is sold was passed by a wide margin, 70-30.

But 100 percent of the Senate's 44 Democrats voted in favor while 55 percent of Republicans voted against.

I think Americans would like to know that. Shouldn't we let them know?
David Morris is co-founder and vice president of the Institute for Local Self Reliance in Minneapolis, Minnnesota and director of its New Rules project.
Sign Up!
Get AlterNet's Daily Newsletter in Your Inbox
+ sign up for additional lists
[x]
Select additional lists by selecting the checkboxes below before clicking Subscribe:
Activism
Drugs
Economy
Education
Environment
Food
Media
World