The center held.
House members in both parties from more competitive seats combined forces on Monday evening to pass a compromise debt-ceiling increase, while members from safe seats provided most of the votes against the package. There was a clear relationship between the political safety of districts and the level of support for the Budget Control Act, which passed 269-161.
Ninety-five Democrats and 66 Republicans joined in opposition to the measure, which contained a debt-ceiling increase, budget cuts, and the formation of a joint committee to outline a future deficit-reduction bill. The further a member’s district is from the political center, the more likely it is that he or she opposed the compromise.
Among Republican representatives, the higher the support for Sen. John McCain’s presidential candidacy in 2008, the less likely it was that the member voted “yes” on the debt-ceiling deal. Fifty-four of the 61 Republican members from districts that President Obama carried supported the bill, a rate of almost 90 percent.
But that rate declined with each step up in McCain’s support. In the districts the Arizonan won with 55 percent of the vote or less, 58 of 75 Republicans voted yes. But less than three-fifths, 38 of 64, of House Republicans voted for the compromise in the strongest McCain districts, where the Arizona senator won 60 percent of the vote or higher.
The same story held true on the other side of the aisle. Of 13 McCain-district Democrats, 12 supported the deal, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., who made a dramatic return to the House floor to cast her vote in favor. Only North Carolina’s Mike McIntyre voted no among that small group of Democrats living on the political edge. The percentage of Democrats supporting the deal declined with each jump in President Obama’s 2008 performance. In the strongest Obama districts, where the president carried at least 60 percent of the vote, a majority of House Democrats voted against the debt-ceiling increase.
Performance in the 2010 election was also a strong predictor of voting behavior, especially among Democrats. A majority of Democrats, 58, who won with at least 60 percent of the vote in November, voted against the debt-ceiling deal, compared to 41 from ultra-safe districts who voted for it, including Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. The ratio reversed among members who won with less than 55 percent: 32 Democrats supported the deal while 21 opposed it.
The 2010 results were not as predictive for Republicans, who voted for the measure at similar rates across safe and unsafe districts. However, the majority of Republican no votes came from their safest seats; 42 of the 66 Republican no voters won at least 60 percent of their district’s vote in November.
Still, electoral results were by far the strongest indicator on the debt-ceiling vote. Despite all the news of rabble-rousing tea party freshmen, first-term Republicans only provided 29 of the 66 GOP no votes, a rate only marginally higher than the incidence of freshmen in the Republican conference. The Republican no voters also included some members who had previously declined to rock the boat on spending: 18 of them had supported all three stopgap funding measures that the House passed in the spring to keep the government open. (Another 16 voted for two of the three continuing resolutions.)