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Threatened by Primary Challenge, Many Lawmakers Vote Against Budget Deal

by Shawn M. Griffiths, published
Some say it was a cause of celebration while others say Wednesday was a sad day in American history. After the Senate announced a budget deal between leaders of both major parties in Washington, lawmakers

patted themselves on the back for doing their job. Still, there were many lawmakers who voted against the deal out of fear of a primary challenge that would cost them their seats.

After the Senate passed a "bipartisan" deal to end the partial government shutdown and extend the nation's borrowing authority for a few more months, it came down to a House vote. It passed with two-thirds approval, but 62 percent of House Republicans voted against opening "non-essential" departments of the government and keeping the nation from exceeding the debt ceiling limit and putting the nation's ability to pay future debt obligations in jeopardy.

Why? Some of the lawmakers who vowed to vote against the deal publicly stated they were doing so because the deal did not extensively deal with deficit spending. There have been plenty of opportunities for lawmakers to address deficit spending up to the latest can kicking. There have been plenty of opportunities to fix sequestration and examine areas in the federal budget where cuts are needed. It is irresponsible to wait until the eleventh hour and then say you want a comprehensive plan to reduce deficit spending.

The truth is for many it was just so they could go home and tell their constituents come primary season, "look, I voted against it; I stood my ground."



Voter turnout in primary elections is extremely low in many states and for several lawmakers it is the only hurdle they know they have to clear to retain their seat. However, because voter turnout is low, Republican lawmakers know how high of a hurdle the tea party can make it in cetain regions in the country because no matter what a person thinks of the tea party, the movement knows how to organize the get out the vote effort effectively.

That is how U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) got elected. He wasn't the top vote getter in the 2012 Texas Republican Primary, but he got enough votes to force a runoff against Lt. Governor David Dewhurst and then was able to capitalize on a voter turnout of 6 percent. The runoff election to the 2012 primaries was held in July; not very many people were going to participate and the person who did win was the person with the grassroots movement behind them that could get people to the polls.

When a legislator secures their seat with less than 4 percent of the voting age population, they legislate to appease that 4 percent of the population. The same goes for legislators who are afraid they may get a primary challenger who can win over this small percentage of voters.

Ted Cruz said he was leading the effort to hold the ideological ground on Obamacare because of the millions of Americans who said they wanted the health care reform defunded or delayed. He fought for the 2 million people who signed the petition. Two million people is an impressive number to have sign a petition; it is also just over half of one percent of the U.S. population.

How have we gotten to the point where lawmakers won't do their job because they are afraid of such a small percentage of the American population?

It is because of the current primary environment and electoral laws in most states. Republicans remember 2010 well when some of their colleagues were ousted by tea party candidates who, like Cruz, were able to capitalize on an infinitesimally small percentage of the electorate in primary elections because they ran in districts or states where there really are no general elections that matter.

President Obama said the economic crisis is over in a press conference Thursday morning. However, with all due respect to the president, it is not over; it has just been pushed back -- postponed for a few more months. There is no indication that Congress will do anything more than kick the can down the road a little further each time these fiscal crisis arise because many lawmakers put re-election above doing their job, a job they get paid handsomely for even when they are not doing it.

Photo Credit: Patricia Hofmeester /

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