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Friday, April 20, 2012

Bass talking like a moderate again

Telegraph Editorial

Is U.S. Rep. Charles Bass the bipartisan reformer who stood with 15 of his fellow House Republicans in backing the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction plan last month, which went down to defeat by a resounding 382-38 vote?

Or is he the party loyalist who voted in lockstep with every other Republican less than 24 hours later in favor of House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s controversial budget resolution, which was approved 228-191 with nary a Democratic vote?

That’s one of the key questions voters may be asking themselves later this year if, as expected, the veteran 2nd District congressman squares off for a rematch with Democrat Ann McLane Kuster – whom he beat by only 3,550 votes last time – a race the National Journal lists among the top 20 toss-up contests in the country.

For his part, Bass cast himself clearly as the former during a meeting with The Telegraph editorial board earlier this month.

“The primary reason why most average voters are disgruntled and disappointed with the performance of their elected officials in Washington is because of the fact that we can’t solve our nation’s problems,” he said. “I’ve had enough of the brinkmanship and the posturing on both sides, by the way.”

That was a driving factor behind his decision to join the so-called “Go Big Coalition,” a group of more than 100 lawmakers in the House and Senate that called for a budget compromise that would reduce the federal budget deficit by $4 trillion over the next 10 years.

The doomed proposal was based on the work of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform – aka the supercommittee – which was chaired by former Republican Sen. Alan Simpson, of Wyoming, and Erskine Bowles, chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton.

The vote for the compromise budget was one of a handful of issues Bass mentioned during our session that distinguished himself from his party’s leadership. Among them:

His longtime opposition to opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to oil drilling. Bass was one of six House Republicans who sent a letter to GOP leaders in February, urging them not to pursue this as a way to fund a transportation bill.

His strong support for high-speed passenger rail. Bass was one of only 60 Republicans who voted against cutting funding for Amtrak last year. (He also expressed disappointment with the Executive Council’s recent vote to block a rail study in New Hampshire.)

Ending U.S. involvement in Afghanistan on a faster timetable than outlined by the Obama administration, saying: “I don’t think we can win in Afghanistan.”

His support for abortion rights, which includes being one of only seven Republicans who voted against defunding Planned Parenthood last year.

These positions help to explain why Bass, who once chaired the centrist Republican Main Street Partnership, ranks in the bottom 10 of all House Republicans based on how often he votes with leadership, according to OpenCongress.

During the current session, Bass ranks 233rd of 242 Republicans with a support rate of 85.5 percent. The average Republican votes with his or her party 93.7 percent of the time.

Of course, whether this will be enough for moderate independent voters to offset his support for the Ryan budget, a balanced budget amendment and a repeal of the health care reform law, to name a few, remains to be seen.