Stan Voit: Alexander vote record prompts sharp right turn

Apr. 01, 2013 @ 12:01 AM

If you think the idea of bipartisanship is a good thing welcomed by all Americans, think again. That may be a stated desire of members of Congress and the president, but when you answer to constituents back home, it can create some problems.

My guess is, Sen. Lamar Alexander experienced what can happen when you are perceived as too close to the leaders of the opposition party. Alexander has always had an independent streak as a member of the U.S. Senate. He does not need to defend his Republican roots and values, but he also has been unafraid to stray from the reservation and vote his conscience when he feels moved to do that.

Four years ago Alexander voted to confirm President Obama’s choice of Sonia Sotomayor as a justice on the Supreme Court. In explaining his vote Alexander said,

“Even though Judge Sotomayor’s political and judicial philosophy may be different than mine, especially regarding Second Amendments rights, I will vote to confirm her because she is well qualified by experience, temperament, character and intellect to serve. ...” Noting that Obama, as a senator, had voted against John Roberts’ nomination to be chief justice, Alexander said, “Today, it would be equally wrong for me to vote against Judge Sotomayor solely because she is not ‘on my side’ on some issues.”

He survived that, but did vote against Elena Kagan’s nomination to the court in 2010.

Then came a study by Congressional Quarterly, released earlier this year, that showed Alexander supported President Obama’s positions on Senate bills in 2012 more frequently than any other Republican senator from the South: 62 percent of the time. The study said only Republican senators from Maine, Massachusetts, Alaska and Indiana had higher “presidential support scores.” A political analyst at Austin Peay University was quoted as saying that record “may very well be a problem for him.”

This was news Alexander couldn’t absorb or defend so easily. And thus began what has I think has been a steady barrage of statements, news releases and speeches from the Senate floor that staked out his conservative credentials and distanced himself from the president.

For example:

n Jan. 25: Called on the two members of the NLRB appointed by Obama in January during a pro-forma session of the Senate to resign immediately after a Federal Circuit Court of Appeals panel ruled those appointments unconstitutional.

n Feb. 1: Announced he is co-sponsoring a bill he said would help reduce the negative impact excessive regulation has on the economy.

n Feb. 1: Announced his co-sponsorship of a bill that would suspend certain military sales to Egypt, including the F-16, until the administration certifies that Egypt has met specific commitments.

n Feb. 7: Said this about the recent Congressional Budget Office report that 7 million Americans will lose their job-based health care as a result of the new health care law: “The (report) confirms the failures of the health care law: At least seven million people will lose the health insurance the president promised they’d be able to keep, and our nation’s job creators will be taxed $150 billion in penalties as a result. The President should accept that this law isn’t the right solution and he should work with Congress to repeal it. ...”


Feb. 14: In a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee, pressed the Obama administration’s Office of Management and Budget on entitlement reform, questioning a top official on why there is “no plan from the president” to deal with the mandatory entitlement spending that Alexander argued is the primary driver of the nation’s spending crisis. “He is the president of the United States – he is supposed to lead,” Alexander said.

n Feb. 14: Announced his opposition to Chuck Hagel as defense secretary, saying, “Chuck Hagel is a patriot, but by virtue of his views and his experience, he is not the right person to lead the world’s largest military organization in these dangerous times.”

n Feb. 27: Announced he would vote against Jack Lew as treasury secretary “because of his indifference and that of the Obama administration to our nation’s biggest challenge: out-of-control automatic spending increases that continue to create a massive federal debt.”

n Feb. 28: Said this about the sequester: “If the president spent one-tenth of the time developing a plan that he has spent cynically campaigning around the country engaging in scare tactics, the problem would be solved.”

n March 3: On Fox News, said the sequester demonstrates a “colossal failure of presidential leadership” and called on Obama to send to Congress a plan to replace the automatic cuts, and to address what Alexander called out-of-control entitlement spending.

n March 5: In a speech on the floor of the Senate, said Obama’s leadership was “a colossal failure, because he will not respect this Congress and work with it in a way to get results…”

I believe Alexander says and votes the way he feels led to, but in my opinion it is no coincidence that he has rolled out a series of anti-Obama statements and votes since the story about Alexander’s voting record on bills supported by the president.

Frankly, I think Alexander could be re-elected next year even if he waved an ACLU membership card at campaign rallies, but he must be at least a little worried that an opponent will use his voting record and the Congressional Quarterly study against him. That’s politics, especially these days when members of either party can’t be seen as too cozy with the other side.

The right flank of the GOP is too strong and noisy to mess with, even for a man as revered as Lamar Alexander.

— Stan Voit is editor of The Mountain Press. His column appears each Sunday. He can be reached at 428-0748, ext. 217, or e-mail to Twitter: @stanvoit.